Max Lapierre

NHL Power Rankings: Early season surprises and slow starts

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we take a look at some of the early season results around the league.

The first couple of weeks can be tricky to analyze because there is a lot of random noise still taking place, and that can cloud our early outlook on a lot of teams. Over the course of an 82-game season every team is going to hit hot streaks and cold streaks, and if one of those streaks happens early in the year with nothing else around it we can easily jump to some wrong conclusions.

So far some Stanley Cup contenders have struggled, while a couple of teams that were thought to be at the bottom of the league have excelled.

Which teams are for real and which ones are not? Let us try to figure some of that out now.

To the rankings!

The early elites

These teams are at the top and will likely stay here…

1. Carolina Hurricanes. Anyone that thought this team’s second half and postseason run was a fluke was mistaken. They are for real and they are not going away. If they get the goaltending they could be a serious contender to win it all.

2. Colorado Avalanche. So far the preseason hype is legit. They still have the superstars at the top of the lineup, and now they have some actual depth to go with it. Cale Makar looks like a potential Calder Trophy winner.

3. Boston Bruins. When Tuukka Rask is on his game — as he has been so far — the Bruins can be close to unbeatable.

4. Vegas Golden Knights. They do have two losses (a one-goal loss to a great Boston team, and a random off night in Arizona) but they have absolutely steamrolled every other team they have played, including several division foes. Mark Stone could be a real sleeper MVP contender this season.

Great starts but still have something to prove

These teams have started fast, but may not stay here…

5. Edmonton Oilers. The good news: They won their first five games, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl look unstoppable, and James Neal is doing exactly what they hoped. The bad news: The roster after those three is still littered with questions and their underlying numbers point to an unsustainable hot streak. We will see where this goes.

6. Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin is a heck of a duo to build around, but after the way they started last year and fell apart after the first two months the rest of the team has to prove they can do it all year before anyone buys into them.

7. Anaheim Ducks. John Gibson might be the best goalie in hockey, and because of that they always have a chance on any given night. Having Ryan Miller is a backup is a pretty darn good Plan B in net, too.

8. Philadelphia Flyers. Still not quite sure what to make of the Flyers. The top of their lineup is great but the rest of the roster has question marks. A lot here still depends on what Carter Hart does. They started the season with three games in three different countries and managed to collect five out of six points during that stretch. Nice start.

The contenders that you know will be there

These teams are almost certainly going to be in the playoffs, and maybe even have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, but have not yet played their best (or close to their best)…

9. St. Louis Blues. Brayden Schenn is responding to his new eight-year contract extension by scoring a ton of goals. We know he is good now, but that contract comes down to how good he looks four or five years from now.

10. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene has been everything they could have hoped for so far. If he continues that he will be a significant addition to this roster.

11. Washington Capitals. They have not really played their best yet but are still managing to collect points in the standings almost every night. Good thing to do when you are not yet at your best.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins. The injury situation has left their forward lines a jumbled mess, but they are still finding ways to score goals and win. Sidney Crosby has been completely dominant.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs. The defensive questions that have followed this team around for the past few years are still there right now.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning. Something seems a little off so far. This is the best roster in the league on paper, but they have been really hit-and-miss so far this season. Their 4-2 loss in Ottawa over the weekend was ugly.

15. Calgary Flames. Some regression was to be expected this season, but they still have enough talent to be a factor in the Western Conference. Johnny Gaudreau is superb with the puck and is off to a great start.

The great unknowns

These teams are still mysteries whose seasons could still go in any direction…

16. Winnipeg Jets. Their defense is not very good, and that is going to be a big problem, especially if Dustin Byfuglien does not re-join the team. But they do still have a great collection of forwards and the big wild card is Patrik Laine having a monster season. So far, he is.

17. Montreal Canadiens. What this team really needs is for Jonathan Drouin to have a breakout year and become the star forward they hoped he could (and would) be.

18. Detroit Red Wings. They have to be thrilled with the start Anthony Mantha is off to. They have played well, but the roster just does not seem to stack up to the other potential playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

19. New York Rangers. Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin looks like it has a chance to be quite a duo this season.

20. New York Islanders. They are still going to struggle to score goals, but Mathew Barzal will produce more than he has so far. They will still go as far as the goalies can take them.

21. Florida Panthers. They won just one of their first five games entering Monday, but two of their losses came in a shootout. Yeah, they missed out on two points, but we are talking about a coin flip away from their start looking dramatically different than it does. Sergei Bobrovsky being off to a slow start is not helping.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets. So far the goaltending has been the issue it was expected to be, but Pierre Luc-Dubois looks like he is on track for the huge year that was expected of him.

23. Vancouver Canucks. Quinn Hughes was the big reason for excitement this season and so far he is looking like a player that wants to insert himself into the Calder Trophy discussion.

24. Los Angeles Kings. The expectation was that there was no way Jonathan Quick could play worse than he did a year ago. In his first three games he has surrendered 19 goals. That is not going to cut it.

25. Arizona Coyotes. They are still getting great goaltending, but the lack of offense is a real concern.

Good teams that should be better

These are good rosters and should be playoff teams, but they have struggled so far…

26. San Jose Sharks. Not sure if a 40-year-old Patrick Marleau was the missing piece here, but they did win their first two games after he arrived, helping to ease the frustration from an 0-4 start. Do not expect this team to remain this low all season. Too much talent here. Still a potential Western Conference champion.

27. Dallas Stars. Roope Hintz has been the lone bright spot on what has been, so far, one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL.

Could be a long season

These teams have looked bad and may continue to look bad all season…

28. Ottawa Senators. Their win over the Lightning this weekend really was impressive, but other than that they have looked exactly like we expected the Senators to look.

29. Chicago Blackhawks. The early returns on the “did they do enough to fix their defense?” question are not looking promising.

30. New Jersey Devils. Their best players and their new faces are all off to slow starts, and that should help when those players get things turned around. Not sure if the goaltending will turn around, though. So far the Devils have not really done anything well this season.

31. Minnesota Wild. There is just — well — there is just not much positive happening here.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Video: Hamhuis hip check leaves Lapierre hurting

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A Dan Hamhuis hip check Friday in Vancouver has left his former Canucks teammate, Blues forward Max Lapierre, day-to-day with an apparent lower-body injury.

Lapierre didn’t practice today and will be re-evaluated tomorrow before St. Louis hosts Phoenix.

“He took that hit late in the game, that low hit there,” said coach Ken Hitchcock, per the Post-Dispatch. “He’s been exercising full, but not able to skate on a full-time basis. So we’ll evaluate him tomorrow and see if he can play tomorrow.”

As for Hamhuis, the steady Canucks d-man said Friday that he’s feeling more comfortable using the hip check now; however, he hasn’t forgotten about the one he threw on Milan Lucic in Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final that left him injured for the rest of the series.

Lapierre gets in-person hearing Friday

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Blues forward Max Lapierre will be in New York Friday for an in-person disciplinarian hearing with the NHL after his hit from behind on Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle last night in St. Louis.

The in-person hearing opens the door to a suspension lasting longer than five games. Boyle was hurt on the play, which will factor into the ruling. But Lapierre is not considered a repeat offender under the CBA, as his four-game suspension for a hit on San Jose forward Scott Nichol occurred back in 2010 (too long ago to make him a repeat offender).

Meanwhile, Boyle sent an encouraging message to the fans, via Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com.

“I’m doing okay, thank you for your concern and support,” Boyle said. “Means a lot to me. I’ve never once taken this game or any of my fans for granted. Hope to be back soon.”

Related: ‘Things like that happen, especially when idiots are idiots’

In two years, Gillis has gone from top dog to embattled GM

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It seems like a long time ago now. But in reality, it’s only been two years since Mike Gillis was named the NHL’s top general manager for helping the Vancouver Canucks capture the Presidents’ Trophy and come within a game of winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

Back then, Gillis was frequently lauded for his progressive ideas. He often referenced Moneyball. He hired a sleep doctor. The Canucks even had something called a mind room.

Gillis also made some pretty adept hockey moves. He got Christian Ehrhoff out of of San Jose for next to nothing. He picked up Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre at the 2011 trade deadline. He signed the likes of Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres and Mikael Samuelsson.

A former agent, Gillis also proved a convincing negotiator, locking up key Canucks like the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler to below-market contracts while getting his core players to buy in to a team-first attitude.

“That’s what we need everybody to do,” said Kesler back in 2009. “If we’re going to win the Cup, we need guys to take pay cuts. The way the salary cap is now, you really can’t get what you’re worth now if you want to win. Everybody in this locker room knows that and for us to be a great team going forward, we’re going to have to take a pay cut.”

That was then. Today, it could be argued that no GM’s stock has fallen more than Gillis’s. Two straight first-round exits and suddenly nobody’s talking about sleep doctors anymore. Instead, it’s the ham-fisted way he handled the Roberto Luongo/Cory Schneider saga, that dumb Keith Ballard trade, and, really, we could go on and on here. So let’s — because on top of all the bad moves he’s made, plenty of people call Gillis a whiner, too. When they’re not calling him arrogant and unwilling to admit a mistake, ever.

“From my perspective … it’s been a terrible season for us,” Gillis said in May after the Canucks were swept by the Sharks. “We’re going to have to reinvent ourselves and do things differently in order to be successful. The macro look at this team is that changes have to be made.”

So out went head coach Alain Vigneault and in came John Tortorella (a hiring, by the way, that many felt had ownership’s fingerprints all over it.)

But despite Gillis’s call for a “reset,” the Canucks’ core remains awfully familiar — the Sedins, Kesler, Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Alex Burrows and Luongo.

Where Gillis can perhaps (or perhaps not) find redemption next season is in the club’s pool of prospects. Because we forgot to mention, he’s also been lambasted for his draft record and for trading Cody Hodgson to Buffalo for Zack Kassian.

If Kassian can realize his potential….if draft picks Brendan Gaunce, Bo Horvat, Nicklas Jensen, and/or Frank Corrado can make an impact…if free-agent pickups Kellan Lain and/or Joacim Eriksson pan out…well, if anyone knows sports fans have a short memory, it’s Gillis.

More Canucks day on PHT:

Young guys will be key for Canucks

Agent: KHL teams interested in Tanev

Agent: No talks between Lapierre and Canucks

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A bottom-six center that loves to get under the opponent’s skin may be on the market this summer.

Agent Don Meehan confirmed today to News 1130 Sports in Vancouver that there have been no contract talks between his client, Max Lapierre, and the Canucks.

Lapierre is a pending unrestricted free agent. The 28-year-old is coming off a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1 million.

A veteran of 463 NHL regular-season games, Lapierre was traded to Vancouver from Anaheim in December of 2010. He was a solid contributor during the Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011, even if some of his antics drew criticism.

This season, Lapierre had four goals and six assists in 48 games.

It’s not clear if the Canucks have any interest in re-signing the Montreal native. General manager Mike Gillis has said he wants his roster to get bigger and younger, and that may not leave a spot for Lapierre.

Brendan Gaunce — the 26th overall pick in last year’s draft — is one big, young center the Canucks would like to see in the NHL next season.