Nazem Kadri

Getty Images

Rantanen’s goals help Avalanche defeat Flyers, extend point streak

Leave a comment

Mikko Rantanen scored twice and the Colorado Avalanche extended their point streak to eight games with a 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Matt Calvert also scored, and Pavel Francouz made 32 saves in Colorado’s seventh win over the past eight games.

Claude Giroux scored the lone Flyers goal late in the third period and Carter Hart made 25 saves, but the Flyers fell in regulation for only the second time in the previous 10 outings (7-2-1).

Francouz provides boost between the pipes

With Avalanche starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer sidelined with a lower-body injury, Francouz made his fourth straight appearance and collected his eighth win of the season with a strong performance against the Flyers.

After a rocky showing against the Flames earlier this week which resulted in a 5-4 overtime loss, Francouz bounced back and was a steadying force in the crease. Claude Giroux ended Francouz’s shutout bid late in the third period, but the Czech goalie held off a late push from Philadelphia.

After a second-round defeat in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Avalanche have eyes on home-ice advantage in the 2020 postseason. If Francouz can provide consistent goaltending when called upon, they certainly have the star power up front to be a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

Kadri acquisition paying early dividends

Colorado general manager Joe Sakic acquired Nazem Kadri this past summer to help the Avalanche become a deeper team with improved secondary scoring. With 21 points in 28 games this season, Kadri has added another element to Colorado’s dynamic offensive attack.

Early in the third period Wednesday, Kadri patiently waited behind the Flyers’ net until Rantanen skated into position to convert a one-timer to give Colorado a three-goal third-period lead.

The Avalanche’s top line is one of the most lethal trios in the NHL, but Colorado is that much more dangerous if Kadri continues to provide an extra boost.

Looking ahead for Flyers

The Flyers began a three-game road trip against Central Division opponents with a loss against the Avalanche, but cannot let one game ruin the momentum they have generated with strong play in recent weeks. The Flyers will travel to Minnesota and Winnipeg over the weekend and need to continue to secure points to keep pace in the Metropolitan Division.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Avs getting plenty of depth scoring this season

Getty
1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When you think of the Colorado Avalanche, the first names that come to mind are probably Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, or Gabriel Landeskog. The trio produces an incredible amount of offense and they’re arguably the best line in the entire NHL.

Last season, MacKinnon (99 points), Rantanen (87 points) and Landeskog (75 points) were first, second and third in team scoring. Former Avs defender Tyson Barrie was fourth with 59 points, but no other forward on the team had collected more than 49 points (Carl Soderberg).

So yes, most teams would kill to have a top line like Colorado’s, but there’s no doubt that they also needed to add some depth scoring during summer. On top of that need, they also lost Rantanen and Landeskog for an extended period of time already this season.

What did general manager Joe Sakic do? He traded Tyson Barrie away, but Cale Makar has replaced his production in a big way by scoring 28 points in his first 29 games. That’s a step up offensively right there. In exchange for Barrie, the Avs were able to land Nazem Kadri, who is an important forward on this team at both ends of the ice. He also signed Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky to free-agent contracts.

How has that worked out so far?

Pretty well.

Kadri has 10 goals and 10 assists through 27 games, but again, he’s so valuable at both ends of the ice that he instantly makes the Avs a better team. He’s tough to play against and he’s capable of playing in both offensive and defensive situations. He’s sidelined with a lower-body injury now, but he should be back soon enough. It’s not surprising to see him do well with his new team.

On the flip side, Donskoi and Burakovsky’s offensive output this year has been downright shocking. Donskoi trails only MacKinnon and Makar for the team lead in scoring, as he has 13 goals and 27 points in only 30 games. He’s just 10 points away from matching his career high, which he set with San Jose last season. Whether or not he can stay on this pace remains to be seen, but the Avs will be a tough out if they keep getting that kind of production from him.

As for Burakovsky, he became available because the Washington Capitals were in a bit of a cap crunch during the summer. The 24-year-old posted a career-high 38 points back in 2015-16, but he failed to build on that season over the last three years with the Capitals.

Colorado paid a second-round pick, a third-round pick and Scott Kosmachuk (he’s moved on to the German League this year) for the former first-rounder, so they gave up quite a bit of draft compensation to roll the dice on this player. That trade has panned out pretty well so far though.

Burakovsky is up to 12 goals and 23 points in 27 games, which puts him fourth on the team in scoring as of right now.

Let’s also give honorable mentions to Matt Calvert, J.T. Compher and Matt Nieto, who have also helped on the offensive side of things this year.

Of course, the Avs are going to go as far as MacKinnon and the rest of their stars take them, but getting help is always an added bonus. Also, only the Columbus Blue Jackets have more cap space than the Avs right now, so there’s a chance they could improve their roster with a deal before the trade deadline.

Colorado upset Calgary in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year before being bounced by the San Jose Sharks in the second. Expectations will be much higher this time around.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and NHL insider Darren Dreger. Chris Cuthbert will handle play-by-play duties alongside Pierre McGuire at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL Power Rankings: Best landing spots for Taylor Hall

Taylor Hall‘s contract situation with the New Jersey Devils was always going to be a big storyline this season, and with the team off to a disappointing start and the possibility of him re-signing looking slimmer by the day it was only a matter of time until trade talk picked up.

Over the weekend The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that teams around the league are calling the Devils regarding their top player, and general manager Ray Shero is starting to listen.

With that in mind, this week’s PHT Power Rankings takes a look at the best possible landing spots for the former league MVP.

Which teams make the most sense?

To the rankings!

1. New Jersey Devils. Honestly the ideal situation is Hall staying right where he is in New Jersey with one big if — If he is willing to re-sign there. I am just looking at this from a Devils perspective because trading Hall would be a pretty significant blow to what general manager Ray Shero has tried to build here. It is nearly impossible to get fair value for players of this caliber in trade, they have the salary cap space to make a new contract work, and even though he is no longer considered “young” by NHL standards, he is still at an age where he can absolutely be a part of a contending team in New Jersey around Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. Will it work out that way? It is looking less and less likely with each passing day. But you have to keep trying!

Having to trade him after getting just one playoff appearance out of his four years with the team would just seem like a waste and missed opportunity.

So what are the best options assuming they have to trade him?

2. Colorado Avalanche. The worst nightmare for the rest of the Western Conference, and something that is absolutely possible given their situation. The Avalanche roster is already loaded with top-line talent, they have more salary cap space than all but two teams in the league, they have young assets to deal, and they are in a position to win right now. Could you imagine Hall on a team that already has Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri, and Cale Makar? They would go from Stanley Cup contender to Stanley Cup favorite.

3. Montreal Canadiens. They have been hoarding salary cap space and desperately trying to find an impact forward, going as far as to actually signing a restricted free agent offer sheet (Sebastian Aho) over the summer. They need a star, they need an impact forward, they need something to try and break the cycle of mediocrity the Marc Bergevin era has produced.

4. St. Louis Blues. The salary cap is a real obstacle here, but smart teams can find ways to make that work to get the player they want (or need). The Blues look like a Stanley Cup favorite again, but with Vladimir Tarasenko sidelined for most of the season they have a huge hole on the wing. It is a long shot, but it works from a hockey standpoint.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins could definitely use another winger with some finish, and let’s be honest here, finding a way to trade for an impact player like Hall is exactly the type of blockbuster move the Penguins are known for going after as they try to maximize the best years of the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang core. Salary cap space is tight, but it only seems to be a matter of when Jim Rutherford dumps Alex Galchenyuk and/or Nick Bjugstad (once he returns from injury) to clear more space.

6. New York Islanders. They have the goaltending, they are shutting teams down defensively, and they are showing their 2018-19 performance was no fluke. They just need one more impact player up front to bring the whole thing together.

7. Edmonton Oilers. After wasting the first part of Hall’s career then trading him for pennies on the dollar, there has been speculation that they could be interested in a reunion with their former No. 1 overall pick. On one hand it would also give us an opportunity to see the Connor McDavid-Hall combination that we never really had a chance to see. On the other hand, they already had their chance with Hall and blew it.

8. Calgary Flames. After finishing the 2018-19 season with the best record in the Western Conference the Flames have badly regressed this season and have been one of the league’s worst offensive teams. It would also add a fascinating twist and storyline to the Battle of Alberta.

9. Nashville Predators. This entire team is built on big trades and free agent acquisitions, so you know general manager David Poile is not afraid to do something like this. They are not a bad offensive team at this point so it is not like Hall would be addressing a huge need, but the team does look stale and in need of a spark. Their window should not be closing, and with no truly dominant team in the Western Conference they should still have a chance to do something this season.

10. Boston Bruins. They would have to get extremely creative with the salary cap and convince New Jersey to eat some salary, but the Bruins have a window to win right now and need some offense beyond the David PastrnakBrad Marchand duo.

11. Carolina Hurricanes. Not sure how realistic it is given the salary cap, but I am including them just because I think it would be a fun match. They have a ton of draft picks at their disposal to use as trade chips, they are obviously a contender, and adding another impact player like Hall to an already underrated group of forwards would make them a fierce team to defend.

12. San Jose Sharks. It makes no sense, but would it really surprise you if it happened? Or if they tried for it? They have very limited salary cap space, no first-round draft pick this year, and their biggest need is still a goalie. All of that makes it tough to consider them an option. But they are desperate to win a Stanley Cup for Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Erik Karlsson, and with the goalie trade market being slim maybe they just try and outscore their hole in net.

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Marner, Babcock respond to ‘hardest working Leafs’ list

7 Comments

Now that the coaching change has finally been made, the stories about what life was like during the Mike Babcock era of the Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to surface.

The most unbelievable one so far came out over the weekend.

It was then that the Toronto Sun‘s Terry Koshan revealed that during the 2016-17 season, Babcock had asked one of the team’s rookies “to list the players on the team from hardest-working to those who, in the eyes of the rookie, didn’t have a strong work ethic.”

The rookie, not wanting to upset his coach, went through with the list only to have Babcock then tell the players at the bottom of the list where they stood.

That rookie turned out to be Mitch Marner, one of the core building blocks of the Maple Leafs’ organization.

According to Ian Tulloch of The Leafs Nation, Marner placed himself at the very bottom of the list with both sides (Marner and Babcock) agreeing he had to work harder without the puck. Forwards Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri were reportedly two of the more prominent names at the bottom and were later informed by Babcock of their rating in Marner’s eyes.

On Monday, Marner was asked about the situation and went on the record confirming that it actually happened.

“I’d say it was just surprising,” said Marner. “It was so long ago now, honestly I really kind of forgot about it until the report came out. It’s over with now and done with. I was lucky enough the guys that were there with me, none of them took it to heart and they knew it wasn’t up to me.”

He was also asked if he felt Babcock’s task had crossed a line.

“It was my first year, I didn’t really know what to think of it, but it’s over with now,” said Marner. “I’m looking forward to the new change and seeing how I can help this team under Sheldon.”

Babcock also responded on Monday by telling Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman: “I was trying to focus on work ethic with Mitch — focusing on role models — ended up not being a good idea. I apologized at (the) time.”

It is one thing to want a young player to have a strong work ethic and point out positive role models on the team, but there is probably a better way to go about it than the way Babcock did. And by probably, I mean definitely, and by better, I mean almost literally any other way. Putting a 19-year-old rookie on the spot like that — a player that is in a position to almost certainly do whatever the coach asks them to do — is no way to win over favor in the locker room.

This is pretty much an extension of the mind games coaches and executives play when they try to take on the role of amateur psychologist at scouting combines, asking ridiculous — or even insulting — questions to try and get a reaction to see how they respond.

Babcock probably isn’t the first coach to employ some sort of tactic like this, and he will almost certainly not be the last (not that it makes the situation any better — it’s bad no matter who does it).

It is also not unfair to say that Babcock now has a growing list of former players that are either critical of his coaching style, or just flat out do not like him.

Former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Commodore has been Babcock’s most vocal critic on social media, while former Maple Leafs defender Mark Fraser offered a little more insight in the wake of Toronto’s coaching change this past week. Fraser said, among other things, that Babcock is a coach that “95 percent of his former players can’t say a good thing about.”

Fraser’s entire Twitter thread on the subject is here.

Babcock also drew harsh criticism in Toronto earlier this season when he made Jason Spezza, a Toronto native and respected veteran, a healthy scratch in what would have been his first ever game for the Maple Leafs. To outsiders it probably wasn’t that big of a deal, but when added into the context of how some of his former players feel he unjustly treats them — as well as this story regarding Marner — it certainly stands out a little bit more.

It has only been two games since the coaching change, but the Maple Leafs already seem like a looser, more energized, and most importantly better team.

MORE:
Maple Leafs fire Babcock, name Keefe head coach
Underachieving Maple Leafs needed this change
Where will Mike Babcock end up after Maple Leafs?

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.

Maple Leafs GM gives interesting take on ‘polarizing’ players

1 Comment

The Toronto Maple Leafs are mired in a three-game losing streak, and generally speaking, have seemed a bit underwhelming so far in starting 2019-20 with a 9-7-4 record (22 points, currently in second wild card).

Through 20 games, you’ll see players talk about getting “swagger” back, and you probably won’t be able to scroll Hockey Twitter without stumbling upon at least a few debates about the job Mike Babcock is doing.

With as passionate a fan base as the Maple Leafs have, you’ll see people really drilling down to parse even the depth aspects of the team. Maybe that explains why we got an interesting take from GM Kyle Dubas, who almost seemed to break “the fourth wall” when he acknowledged the many takes that defensemen Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie inspire.

Buffet of opinions

Dubas’ comments about Ceci are especially fascinating, as you can see from TSN’s Karen Shilton.

“Cody is an interesting one. I think it goes back to the war between data and subjective scouting [in that] he seems to be a very polarizing player,” Dubas said. “Even when everything underlying about him has been relatively solid, especially when you consider his usage [as a top-pairing defenceman who averages 22:19 of ice time per game], it seems to be every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum on whether he’s good or not, which is mind-boggling to me. Every defenceman that plays that much and plays in that role is going to [make] mistakes. I think he’s been a good addition for us and has played above expectations from when we acquired him and we’re very happy with him.”

In particular, Dubas captures the tenure of some Hockey Twitter debates when he says “it seems like every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum.”

But it’s not that hard to see where many of Ceci’s critics are coming from.

When the Maple Leafs acquired Ceci, and it became clear that he’d actually stick around for at least a while, the hope (for many) was that he wouldn’t have the same role as he did in Ottawa, where some believe the Senators promoted him to a level of incompetence. What if Ceci was in an easier role, with fewer minutes and lesser opponents? Instead, his ice time has been virtually unchanged from last season, and defensive measures like his Hockey Viz heat maps (via Micah Blake McCurdy) look as bad as ever:

But, truly, Dubas isn’t totally off base when he says that there are certain underlying numbers where Ceci comes across at least a bit more respectably.

There’s the argument, advanced by people like Jonas Siegel of The Athletic (sub required), that it’s too early to judge Ceci.

Maybe it’s too late; perhaps there’s an “eye test vs. analytics” divide that won’t be broken easily. It could be that the biggest uproar would come if the Maple Leafs brought back Ceci after his expiring deal melts away.

(Opinion: they absolutely should not bring Ceci back.)

Tyson not knocking it out of the park

In the grand scheme of things, the Ceci situation is basically going as prescribed.

The bigger disappointment might be Tyson Barrie, even if you ignore Nazem Kadri‘s promising early results in Colorado. The book on Barrie is that he can be an explosive offensive performer, although there were red flags about him negating much of that prowess with shaky defense.

Those red flags carry over to those Hockey Viz charts, as there’s a lot of the bad sort of red when you consider Barrie’s defensive impact (and arguably not enough of the good red on offense to justify that bleeding).

Keeping it as simple as it gets, Barrie barely has more points (zero goals, five assists, thus five points) than Ceci (one goal, three assists for four points). Those numbers are underwhelming even if you viewed Barrie as something of a paper tiger with superficial scoring stats coming in.

Maybe it’s telling that Dubas’ comments are more milquetoast about Barrie, stating that “we just want him to continue to work and get comfortable here.”

***

Barrie, Ceci, and the Maple Leafs face a familiar foe on Friday in the Boston Bruins. In the Bruins’ own way, they want to get back on track too, as they’ve lost four in a row.

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.