Nazem Kadri

Improved depth makes Avalanche Stanley Cup contender

NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings from Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Colorado Avalanche have had one of the NHL’s most dominant top lines for a couple of years now thanks to the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. When they are on the ice together and playing at their best they can be borderline unstoppable.

They carried the Avalanche to a playoff appearance a year ago and a Round 1 upset over the No. 1 seeded Calgary Flames.

They are the foundation of the team and a massive part of what makes them a playoff team.

But for the Avalanche to become a Stanley Cup contender — and potential Stanley Cup champion — they needed to address their biggest Achilles heel over the summer.

Secondary scoring.

It is not unfair to say that the 2018-19 Avalanche were a top-heavy team.

When none of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio was on the ice last year they were outscored by a 95-76 margin and controlled just 48 percent of the total shot attempts.

With the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog on the ice they outscored teams 46-29 and controlled more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts.

It is great to have an amazing top-line that can win games for you on any given night, but they are not going to be able to win games for you every night. The Avalanche had to address that over the summer.

And through a series of shrewd moves, they did.

  • After years of trade rumors and speculation, the Avalanche finally completed a Tyson Barrie trade and sent him (and Alexander Kerfoot) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for center Nazem Kadri, giving the team a bonafide second-line center that can play a shutdown role and score 30 goals. He was on track to score 30 goals again before his recent injury. Dealing Barrie was made possible by the emergence of young blue-liners Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and the selection of Bowen Byram with the No. 4 overall pick (acquired in the Matt Duchene trade).
  • They took advantage of Washington’s salary cap crunch and acquired Andre Burakovsky for two draft picks and Scott Kasmachuk. After being unable to fully reach his potential in Washington, Burakovsky is currently the Avalanche’s second-leading scorer.
  • They dipped into the free agent market and signed former Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi to a multi-year contract. While his offensive numbers were never going to make him a star, Donskoi has always been a strong possession-driving two-way player. He is having a career-year offensively for Colorado.
  • In what was perhaps their most under-the-radar signing, they signed Valeri Nichushkin to a one-year, $850,000 contract. After going through the most uneventful season in NHL history (0 goals, 0 penalty minutes in 57 games) he already has 11 goals in 51 games for the Avalanche.

Those four moves have helped turn the Avalanche into a true contender in the Western Conference.

They enter Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the Los Angeles Kings with the second-best record in the Western Conference, just three points behind the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues with still two games in hand.

Even with Thursday’s loss to the Washington Capitals, they are also 8-2-2 in their past 12 games.

All of that added depth has paid off in a big way this season, especially as they had to deal with early season injuries to Landeskog and Rantanen.

The Avalanche are so much deeper this season that when none of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio is on the ice they are outscoring teams 79-42 and controlling 52 percent of the total shot attempts. It is not even a comparison to what they managed a year ago, and there is no way the 2018-19 roster would have been able to overcome extended absences for two of their big three the way this year’s team did.

The trio of Kadri, Nichushkin, and Burakovsky had recently formed a dominant second line that out had scored teams 11-1 and controlled possession. Kadri being sidelined for the time being obviously takes that option away, obviously, but the option to reunite it when he returns will be there.

There is also the potential to keep adding to the roster as the Avalanche approach the NHL trade deadline with the second most salary cap space available in the NHL to add whatever they think they need to put them over the top.

It may not result in a Stanley Cup this season, but the Avalanche are positioned to be one of the powerhouse teams in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

It starts with the trio of stars on the top line.

But the pieces they added over the summer to complement them are what can help take them to where they want to go.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher will call the matchup. On-site studio coverage at Air Force Academy will feature Kathryn Tappen hosting alongside analyst Patrick Sharp and reporter Rutledge Wood.

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.

McDavid headlines brutal injury list with Weber, Kuznetsov, Kadri

Tuesday’s injury list is a doozy, with news about Connor McDavid headlining a trio of impact losses. Nazem Kadri and Shea Weber also stand out as injuries with playoff and/or trade deadline implications. The same goes for Evgeny Kuznetsov if his situation is worse than “day-to-day.”

McDavid injury estimated to sideline him for 2-3 weeks

Oilers GM Ken Holland delivered the bad news of McDavid being out two-to-three weeks:

“He’s two to three weeks. That’s a normal timeline for this injury,” Holland said. “We’re hoping less … It’s not long-term. We’ll double-back a week from now.”

Lower-body injuries can be tricky, however, so it’s fair to say they “hope” that isn’t long-term. For what it’s worth, the Oilers insist that McDavid’s quad injury is unrelated to recent knee issues. McDavid suffered the injury during Saturday’s win against the Predators.

Even in the short term, this is big. Merely glance at the ocean-sized gulf between McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the rest of the Oilers’ leading scorers:

Not ideal. Edmonton’s schedule makes things worse. While this view would reflect a pessimistic injury timeline, it’s still worth noting that the Oilers play nine of their next 13 games on the road (home games in bold):

Feb. 11 vs. Chicago
Feb. 13 at Tampa Bay
Feb. 15 at Florida
Feb. 16 at Carolina
Feb. 19 vs. Boston
Feb. 21 vs. Minnesota
Feb. 23 at Los Angeles
Feb. 25 at Anaheim
Feb. 26 at Vegas
Feb. 29 vs. Winnipeg
Mar. 2 at Nashville
Mar. 3 at Dallas
Mar. 5 at Chicago

Glance at how tight the Pacific and West standings are, and despair (if you’re an anxious Oilers fan):

No, it’s not all doom and gloom. The Oilers lack a big buffer in standings points, but they hold two or three games in hand on the teams closest to them.

Still, they face plenty of bubble opponents down the stretch, including the Blackhawks on Tuesday. Things could unravel if they lose many of those McDavid-less games, particularly during regulation.

Weber injury situation sounds ominous

A cruel season of injuries continues for the Montreal Canadiens. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that Shea Weber’s lower-body injury doesn’t look “encouraging.” McKenzie notes that the Habs haven’t been forthcoming with information about the situation.

Some of that might boil down to Weber’s status being murky at the moment. McKenzie explained further:

Often times, when a player is sidelined for a week or more without a definitive prognosis/announcement from the club, it’s because the doctors/club/player are weighing the options (rehab vs. surgery etc) or getting additional medical opinions on what can be complicated injuries.

This stings deeper because Weber had been enjoying a healthy, fantastic season after years of injury issues since joining the Canadiens. If Weber misses significant time, it would represent the third straight season derailed by ailments.

To me, this attaches a neon flashing sign to what was already probably true: the Canadiens should suck it up and sell at the trade deadline.

Injuries to Kadri, Kuznetsov

  • Avalanche coach Jared Bednar told Altitude Sports Radio that Nazem Kadri is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Bednar stated that Kadri is expected to miss “weeks, not days.”

“I think that Kadri’s a big loss,” Bednar said, via Sportsnet’s transcription. “You’ve got a face-off guy, you got a power-play guy, you got a second-line centre down the middle that adds some experience and, like you said, that grit and sandpaper.”

The Avs were pushing the Blues quite a bit for the Central crown lately. Colorado’s on a four-game winning streak, and while St. Louis holds a three point standings edge (73-70), the Avs have played two fewer games. Losing Kadri makes it a tougher hill to climb.

Washington already lost three of its last four games and four of six. The Capitals lead the Metro with 77 points to Pittsburgh’s 73, but the Penguins hold two games in hand.

Overall, quite a few races could be influenced by Tuesday’s bad injury news.

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.

Revisiting 7 of the NHL’s biggest offseason trades

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With the first half of the 2019-20 NHL season complete and the trade deadline just a couple of weeks away we wanted to take a quick look back at seven of the biggest trades that were made during the offseason and how they have worked out.

Let’s dig in to them.

The Nazem KadriTyson Barrie trade

Toronto Maple Leafs received: Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, 2020 sixth-round pick
Colorado Avalanche received: Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, 2020 third-round pick

How it’s worked: This is one of those trades where everyone is probably getting just what they thought they would get. And exactly what they wanted. Kadri gives the Avalanche a center to drive their second line, has been a huge part of their improved depth, and is scoring on a 30-goal pace (again) over 82 games. Barrie is under a far more intense microscope in Toronto, is the type of player that always be prone to criticism due to his style of play, and had a brutal start to the season. (Who didn’t on that team?) But he has looked like a completely different (and better) player under Sheldon Keefe than he did under Mike Babcock (who hasn’t?). Not sure how the Maple Leafs handle him and Jake Muzzin beyond this season (both free agents) but for right now it’s been a hockey trade where both teams benefitted.

The Phil Kessel trade

Pittsburgh Penguins received: Alex Galchenyuk, Pierre-Oliver Joseph
Arizona Coyotes received: Phil Kessel

How it’s worked: Nobody is winning it right now. This was always a weird trade from the Penguins’ perspective because they didn’t get the better player and they didn’t really save a ton of salary cap space. Kessel has been slightly more productive than Galchenyuk, but he’s definitely not Phil Kessel anymore. There’s no way the Coyotes are happy with four even-strength goals in 55 games. Galchenyuk, meanwhile, has just been a terrible fit with the Penguins. He works hard, he plays hard, he does his best, but it’s just not working. It will be a surprise if he remains with the team into March. The development of Joseph will make or break this trade for the Penguins, while the Coyotes have to hope Kessel has another big postseason in him.

The Jacob Trouba trade

New York Rangers received: Jacob Trouba
Winnipeg Jets received: Neal Pionk, 2019 first-round pick

How it’s worked: Probably not the way anybody expected it to work. Trouba was part of the Rangers’ big offseason and resulted in him getting a HUGE contract. He was also part of a mass exodus off of the Winnipeg blue line that also saw it lose Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and — apparently — Dustin Byfuglien.

The twist here is that Pionk has  been the better player this season and one of the few bright spots on an otherwise bad defense. He has been the more productive player across the board offensively, while Trouba has quite literally had one of the worst defensive impacts of any player in the NHL. Granted, he’s playing on a dreadful defensive team, but he has not been good. Given his salary they are going to need a lot more. The Jets used that first-round pick to select Ville Heinola, a promising young defenseman that had an eight-game cup of coffee in the NHL to start the season and looked impressive.

The J.T. Miller trade

Vancouver Canucks received: J.T. Miller
Tampa Bay Lightning received: Marek Mazanec, 2019 third-round pick, conditional 2020 first-round pick

How it’s worked: The Lightning desperately needed to shed salary to get Brayden Point re-signed, and Miller was an obvious choice to go. It seemed like a risky move for the Canucks to give up a future first-round pick given where they were in their rebuild, but Miller has been one of their most impactful players, biggest game-changers and is helping to drive their run toward a Pacific Division title. An increased role and a bigger opportunity to shine is resulting a career year, and there is not much to suggest it is a fluke. As long as the Canucks make the playoffs and that first-round pick is in the bottom half of the round this is a win for the Canucks, and simply the cost of doing business for a cap-strapped Lightning team.

The P.K. Subban trade

New Jersey Devils received: P.K. Subban
Nashville Predators received: Steve Santini, Jeremy Davies, 2019 second-round pick, 2020 second-round pick

How it’s worked: The good news for the Devils is that they didn’t give up anything too valuable here. The bad news is Subban’s days as an elite player may be behind him and they still owe him $18 million over the next two years. It’s not that Subban has been bad, but he hasn’t been a $9 million per year player, either. It’s simply been a tough spot for a defenseman that plays his style to be in. The goaltending behind him has been bad, there isn’t a lot of forward talent around him, and the team as a whole has simply underwhelmed. Nashville, meanwhile, used its new salary cap space to sign Matt Duchene. He’s been fine, even if the team itself hasn’t.

The James NealMilan Lucic trade

Edmonton Oilers received: James Neal
Calgary Flames received: Milan Lucic

How it’s worked: “Our contract we don’t want for your bad contract you don’t want.” During the first month of the season this looked like it was going to be a laugher for the Oilers when Neal could not stop scoring goals, but he has just eight goals since Nov. 1 and has been a complete non-factor outside of the power play. Lucic has just been a non-factor. In the end, both players are exactly what we thought they were at this point in their careers, just in different sweaters.

The Justin Faulk trade

St. Louis Blues received: Justin Faulk, 2020 fifth-round draft pick
Carolina Hurricanes received: Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk, 2021 seventh-round draft pick

How it’s worked: After years of speculation and rumors the Hurricanes not only finally traded Faulk, but they sent him to the defending Stanley Cup champions. Faulk is the bigger name and the better player, but objectively speaking there has not been a huge difference in the performance of the two players this season, while the Hurricanes didn’t have to give Faulk the huge contract the Blues did. Bokk is an intriguing prospect (2018 first-round pick) for them, and they still have a pretty deep blue– and young — line to build around. Faulk still figures to be a huge part of the Blues going forward.

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.

The Buzzer: Panthers get last-gasp winner; Kadri, Makar lead Avs

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THREE STARS

1. Keith Yandle, Panthers

A wild game in Minnesota ended with the Panthers topping the Wild 5-4 and Yandle finishing with a goal and four points. Noel Acciari tipped home a shot with 5.6 seconds left for the win. The final period began with the game tied at two. Evgenii Dadonov put home his 22nd of the season and Minnesota scored twice to make it a 4-3 Wild lead. Then it was Vincent Trocheck tying the game with 4:08 to go and Acciari giving Florida the two points with the late winner:

2. Nazem Kadri, Avalanche

Kadri had two goals and an assist during a 6-3 Monday matinee win over the Red Wings. With his pair of goals Kadri now has 17 on the season, surpassing his total from 2018-19. His career high is 32, which was reached in back-to-back seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18 with the Maple Leafs.

3. Cale Makar, Avalanche

One of the favorites for the Calder Trophy, Makar picked up two primary assists in the Avs’ win. He’s now in sole possession of first place in the rookie scoring race with 37 points and is three helpers behind Quinn Hughes for tops among rookies. Per the NHL, Makar’s multi-point day helped him match Bruce Bell for most points in a single season by a rookie defenseman in Avalanche/Nordiques history.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT

• This was a pretty setup by the Red Wings for Givani Smith‘s second career NHL goal:

Nathan MacKinnon scored twice and reached the 30th goal mark for the third straight season:

Aleksander Barkov keeps doing wonderful things:

• The Wild’s pup, Breezer, took care of some business pregame:

STAT OF THE NIGHT

SCORES
Avalanche 6, Red Wings 3
Panthers 5, Wild 4

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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.

Rangers’ Lindgren avoids suspension for hit on Avs’ Donskoi

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Usually, when you hear about a hearing with Player Safety, you assume a suspension is coming. New York Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren bucked that trend, as he avoided supplemental discipline for his hit on Colorado Avalanche forward Joonas Donskoi.

Nazem Kadri gave Lindgren an epic beating in a fight following that hit, so maybe the league believed that the on-ice “justice” was good enough?

Lindgren left the game after the fight, and Donskoi did not come back after the hit. It’s unclear if either player will miss more time beyond the remainder of the Rangers’ 5-3 comeback win from Tuesday.

The league determined that while there was significant head contact, Lindgren “took a proper angle of approach.”

This all seems … a bit unusual? Maybe Lindgren/the NHLPA made a really good argument over the phone? In my experience, such hearings typically don’t work out this well for offending parties. Borderline hits typically just don’t make it that deep into the process.

Here is a screen shot of the moment of impact:

Rangers Lindgren Avs Donskoi
via Sportsnet/Youtube by way of NBCSN

Lindgren received a five-minute fighting major during the game, but nothing for the hit. Kadri also received a fighting major, a misconduct, and an instigator penalty.

Do you think the league made the right calls — on the ice, and over the phone?

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.