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NHL Power Rankings: Biggest stories of the offseason

With NHL training camps set to begin and the 2019-20 season just around the corner, this week’s NHL Power Rankings will be taking a look back at the biggest storylines of the offseason.

Offer sheets, restricted free agents, a Metropolitan Division arms race, the general manager and coaching carousel in full swing, and even a few oddities.

What were the biggest stories of the summer? To the rankings!

The big stories

1. The rise and fall of Paul Fenton. Simply the most stunning story of the offseason. After one mostly disastrous season in charge of the Minnesota Wild, Fenton was fired this offseason and replaced by Bill Guerin. It’s not just that he was fired after a year, but that the Wild waited until after the draft and free agency to make the move.

2. Sebastian Aho‘s offer sheet. It had been six years since a restricted free agent signed an offer sheet with another team, and it was starting to feel like it was never going to happen again. Then Aho and the Montreal Canadiens actually went through with the process. Only problem was the Canadiens made it a contract that was ridiculously easy for the Carolina Hurricanes to match.

3. Unsigned RFAs. With the start of training camp just days away almost all of the top RFAs remain unsigned. Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Kyle Connor, Charlie McAvoy, Ivan Provorov, Brock Boeser. It is unprecedented to have this many top-tier RFAs still unsigned this late in the summer. Many of these negotiations will continue throughout training camp and the preseason, but how many will spill over to the regular season?

4. Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s IIHF suspension. Three months after a social media video surfaced of Washington Capitals star Evgeny Kuznetsov in a room with white powder on a table, he was handed a four-year suspension by the IIHF due to a positive cocaine test in May. Kuznetsov voluntarily sought help through the NHL’s education and counseling program and is expected to meet with commissioner Gary Bettman before training camp.

5. Metropolitan Division madness. The Devils and Rangers re-ignited their rivalry with big offseasons that saw them land the top two picks in the draft and acquire some big name veterans, the Flyers overhauled their defense and gave Kevin Hayes a ton of money, the Blue Jackets lost several key players, the Penguins traded Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta, and the Hurricanes added to an already outstanding defense.

6. Florida goes all in Bob. The worst kept secret at the start of the summer was Sergei Bobrovsky going to the Florida Panthers. He fills their biggest need and could be the piece they need to get back in the playoffs, especially after hiring Joel Quenneville as head coach in April.

7. The GM and coaching carousel. Decades after he revived the Red Wings as a player, Steve Yzerman returns to Detroit to try and do the same as the general manager. That paved the way for Ken Holland to leave Detroit to try and rebuild the charred remains of the Peter Chiarelli era in Edmonton. Behind the benches, six teams will have new coaches as Quenneville (Florida), Alain Vigneault (Philadelphia), Todd McLellan (Los Angeles), Ralph Krueger (Buffalo), D.J. Smith (Ottawa), Dave Tippett (Edmonton), and Dallas Eakins (Anaheim) get their chances. For many, it is a second (or third) chance behind an NHL bench.

8. Nashville’s big change. The Predators needed another game-breaking forward to help fix a dreadful power play that failed them all year. They hope to have found that in Matt Duchene. To make room for him they had to deal from their depth on defense and dump P.K. Subban‘s salary. Are they a better team with Duchene over Subban? David Poile is taking a big gamble that they are.

9. Ron Francis takes over Seattle. This is going to be a tough job, not only because he is starting an organization from scratch, but because expectations will be almost unreachable given what happened with the Vegas Golden Knights.

10. New rules. Video review is being expanded to cover major and match penalties, as well as goals scored as the result of a hand pass, high stick on the puck, or pucks that should have been whistled for being out of play. There are also some new player safety rules in place. Read all about them here.

The oddities

11. Robin Lehner‘s New York “Rangers” Masterton Trophy. Lehner won the 2018-19 Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player that shows perseverance and dedication to hockey, and gave an inspiring speech at the awards ceremony. When he actually received the physical trophy it had him playing for the New York Rangers. He played the 2018-19 season for the New York Islanders. Fans of those teams do not like being confused for the other.

12. NJ Devil goes through the glass. What was the mascot trying to accomplish? No one knows, but it spoiled a child’s birthday party by running through a giant glass window.

13. Connor McDavid‘s skate lace belt. Not really sure what else to say here, other than when you are the best in the world you can dress however you want.

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14. Phil Kessel’s one-room theatre. After putting his Pittsburgh home on the market, the Internet pounced on a random photo of what looked to be the loneliest movie theatre room in the world … a single desk chair in front of a big screen TV. Kessel said he never actually used the room, it had been empty, and his realtor thought they should put a chair in it to give the feel of a theatre. It was still fun while it lasted.

15. Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s reaction to Keenan Thompson’s Lightning joke. He did not find it amusing (Victor Hedman, however, cracked a smile).

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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.

Isles’ Mathew Barzal on the Sedins, NHL adjustment and Calder race (PHT Q&A)

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Nineteen and three. That’s how many multi-point and five-point games, respectively, Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders has recorded this season.

The rookie forward hit No. 19 on Tuesday night with a two-goal, three-point effort during a 5-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Barzal’s 22nd goal of the season ended up being the game-winner. His 60th assist of the season made him the eighth rookie in NHL history to reach the mark.

It’s been a big deal for the 20-year-old Coquitlam, B.C. native. While his NHL season will come to an end on Saturday night, he’ll continue playing this spring after accepting an invite to represent what’s looking to be a stacked Canada squad at the World Championships in Denmark next month.

“When the best player in the world, at 20 years old, is going, Connor McDavid, it’s pretty easy for a guy like me, being 20, to say yes,” Barzal told Andrew Gross of Newsday this week.

A few weeks after the Worlds end, Barzal will be hopping on a plane to Vegas and picking up his 2018 Calder Trophy, which recognizes the NHL’s top rookie. The finalists won’t be announced until later this month, but it’s been clear that the Islanders forward will take home the honors.

We caught up with Barzal after an Islanders practice earlier this week.

Enjoy.

Q. Being a kid from outside of Vancouver, what did the Sedins mean to you as a young hockey player?

BARZAL: “It was a great. I watched them for 8-9 years and I could remember just being in awe of them cycling the puck and holding it for sometimes a minute, two minutes at a time. They were amazing to watch as a young guy and they were legends in the city.”

You got to participate in the Canucks’ SuperSkills event in 2011. What was it like being around Henrik and Daniel and their teammates?

“They stood out to be just how nice they were and how humble they were. Obviously, they were the two biggest superstars in Vancouver at the time, two most humble guys on the team. It’s such a statement to their character. It’s just kind of the people they are, I guess.”

Nearing the end of your first full season, what took you the longest to adjust to at the NHL level?

“I’d say the lifestyle, just being on your own more, being around older guys. I’m a younger guy, younger soul being around 16 year olds last year, going to being around 30 year olds with kids now. It was a little different at the start, but I love it and every guy is a great guy so they’ve made it easy on me.”

Lot of babysitting and dishes at the Seidenbergs?

“A little bit, yeah.”

Some floor hockey, too?

“Yeah, lot of hockey. Lately, not so much. I kind of just tell [the kids] to go upstairs and get lost, I’m tired today.”

Being in that Islanders room with guys like Seidenberg, Tavares, what are the biggest things you’ve learn off the ice from them?

“I’d say just how hard they work. The routine and just being maniacal about your body and that kind of stuff. Tavares is obsessed about getting better. Same with Seids. They’re so worried about their body and treating it well. That’s the biggest thing I take from it — just every single day you’ve got to take care of your body. You can’t have one good day and think that you’re all of a sudden feeling good. It’s literally eight months of the year that you have to dial in, and every single day they bring it.”

What was the biggest thing that surprised you being up here for a full season?

“The pace of play and how good some guys really are up here. You see them on TV and see Johnny and [Jordan Eberle] on TV growing up and these guys are unbelievable. But you get to see them every day in and out of practice, that kind of stuff. They’re pretty special players. When you go up against a guy like [Sidney] Crosby or [Claude] Giroux, that same thing happens.

“Another thing, maybe not really surprising, but it was just nice to see how the older guys treated a rookie like myself. You hear different things growing up how rookies get treated, but the whole time I’ve been here every guy’s just been really friendly to me and made me feel comfortable and poked me here and there. I love that stuff, so I would say that was a really nice surprise, just feeling like everyone’s got your back.”

Being sent down at the beginning of last year, what kind of motivation did that provide you for this season?

“I’m a pretty motivated guy to begin with so when I got sent back, I didn’t want to go down and just be too cool for a year since I had a little taste in the NHL. I went down and worked hard, had a good coach there [former NHLer Steve Konowalchuk], wasn’t thinking I was smarter or better than anything he said. I think that kind of mindset that the coaching staff and management here wanted me to go back with just really helped my progression last year.”

The rookie race was pretty exciting to watch for most of this season until Brock Boeser got hurt. When it was going back and forth, did you find yourself checking out what the other guys were doing every night?

“Oh yeah, every day. It’s kind of hard to ignore when it’s the TV the whole time and you’re getting Twitter mentions and Instagram [mentions]. It was fun. It was a great. Obviously, we don’t know what’s going to happen come June [Ed. note: I think we do.]. It was fun there when me and Brock [Boeser] had four or five lead changes in the matter of two weeks.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Boyle, Okposo, Staal among 2018 Masterton Trophy nominees

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The 31 nominees for the 2018 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy have been announced. The award, which is given to the players “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey,” will be handed out at the NHL awards show in June in Las Vegas.

The 31 nominees are selected by each Professional Hockey Writers’ Association chapter.

Anaheim Ducks – Andrew Cogliano
Arizona Coyotes – Jakob Chychrun
Boston Bruins – David Backes
Buffalo Sabres – Kyle Okposo
Calgary Flames – Matt Stajan
Carolina Hurricanes – Jordan Staal
Chicago Blackhawks – Jeff Glass
Colorado Avalanche – Carl Soderberg
Columbus Blue Jackets – Zach Werenski
Dallas Stars – Mattias Janmark
Detroit Red Wings – Niklas Kronwall
Edmonton Oilers – Adam Larsson
Florida Panthers – Roberto Luongo
Los Angeles Kings – Dustin Brown
Minnesota Wild – Matt Cullen
Montreal Canadiens – Antti Niemi
Nashville Predators – Auston Watson
New Jersey Devils – Brian Boyle
New York Islanders – Josh Bailey
New York Rangers – Chris Kreider
Ottawa Senators – Mark Borowiecki
Philadelphia Flyers – Claude Giroux
Pittsburgh Penguins – Kris Letang
San Jose Sharks – Joe Thornton
St. Louis Blues – Carter Hutton
Tampa Bay Lightning – Steven Stamkos
Toronto Maple Leafs – Roman Polak
Vancouver Canucks – Derek Dorsett
Vegas Golden Knights – Brad Hunt
Washington Capitals – Devante Smith-Pelly
Winnipeg Jets – Tyler Myers

Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson was last year’s winner.

Plenty of worthy choices among the 31, but hard to imagine Brian Boyle not winning this year’s award considering what he’s been through this season dealing with a diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia. He missed the opening month of the season and returned on Nov. 1, scoring his first goal a week later. He inspired a mural in New York City and later represented the New Jersey Devils at the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa in place of teammate Taylor Hall.

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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.

PHWA to make NHL award ballots public for first time

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Beginning this June, the Professional Hockey Writers Association will reveal the ballots of each voter for the NHL Awards. After much debate over the past several years, 81.3 percent of the group’s membership voted in favor of full transparency.

The PHWA, which announced the decision on Friday, votes on the Hart, Norris, Calder, Selke, Lady Byng, Masterton and Conn Smythe trophies, and the NHL All-Star and All-Rookie teams.

“As journalists we expect full transparency from the teams and people we cover,” said PHWA President Mark Spector. “Our Members are aware that the same is expected of us from our readers, and many voters have voluntarily revealed their ballots in the past. As a group, we have concluded that it is time to make full transparency part and parcel of voting on the NHL Awards.”

Members were allowed to publish their ballots voluntarily in the past, but some felt like their choices should remain private. The full ballots will be revealed on the PHWA website within days of the NHL Awards show in June.

The PHWA distributes ballots in early April, with selections due before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nearly half of the group’s 300 members are given the opportunity to vote every year, along with a handful of national broadcasters.

Full disclosure: I’ve been a PHWA member since 2013-14 and voted in favor of transparency.

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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.

Lightning players dominate PHWA’s midseason awards

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The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association brought back its midseason awards this year and as most of the hockey world descends on Tampa for the NHL All-Star Game this weekend, Lightning players dominated some of the top honors.

Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy were all voted as winners in four of the 10 award categories. The PHWA invited 2,000 fans and more than 150 of its members to vote.

Along with the usual awards, the PHWA introduced the Rod Langway Award for best defensive defenseman and the Comeback Player of the Year.

Here are the final results:

Hart Trophy
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
3. John Tavares, New York Islanders

Norris Trophy
1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
3. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Selke Trophy
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Calder Trophy
1. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
2. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
3. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

Lady Byng Trophy 
1. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo Sabres

[NHL Awards: PHT hands out some midseason hardware]

Vezina Trophy
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
3. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Jack Adams Award
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets

GM of the Year Award
1. George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Ray Shero, New Jersey Devils

Rod Langway Award (To the defenseman who best excels in the defensive aspect of the game.)
1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
3. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

Comeback Player of the Year Award (To the player who returned to a previous high level of performance that was interrupted by subpar play, long-term injury or major illness.)
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Sure, there can be some nit-picking in places, but not too many surprises here through the season’s first half. It will be fun to look back at this vote (and our own staff picks) come mid-April when the regular season ends. How much change will we see?

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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.