NHL power rankings

NHL Power Rankings: Training camp storylines

It is July 13 and training camps open today for the 24 teams participating in the NHL’s Return to Play plan. On Friday, the league and NHLPA ratified the RTP protocols and a four-year extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. After a four-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic we got labor peace and hockey back (for now).

As players reunite to begin practicing ahead of the August 1 start date, there are plenty of storylines to ponder over these next few weeks. After months of speculation, we have some certainty about a few things, while we wait for other things to play out.

In this week’s Power Rankings we take a look at some of the bigger storylines as NHL camps open.

1. Injuries, opt outs affecting rosters

NHL teams began releasing their camp rosters over the weekend. There have been a number of absences from those lists. Nolan Patrick (migraines) will not be with the Flyers; Mike Green, Travis Hamonic, Karl Alzner were among the first players to opt out ahead of Monday’s 5 p.m. ET deadline. The Canadiens and Max Domi (Type-1 diabetic) will wait 7-10 days before deciding if he should participate. What about Rangers rookie Kaapo Kakko (Celiac disease)? Or Brian Boyle (Chronic myeloid leukemia)?  With expanded rosters teams will be able to adjust, but certain absences could leave holes in lineups that may not be able to be filled.

Kakko is on the Rangers’ camp roster as of Monday. Could that change? “If the doctors and the world of science told us not to play him, he’s not playing. It’s that simple,” team president John Davidson said last month.

This also rolls into the NHL’s plan not to release information about if a player tests positive for COVID-19. That first time a player misses practice or a game, the questions will begin.

Meanwhile, the Penguins announced Monday that nine players will be sidelined from camp after potential secondary exposure “to an individual who had contact with a person that has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.”

News of positive tests or players being held off the ice will be a regular occurrence. What will happen if a roster is ravaged by the virus, as we’ve seen in Major League Soccer and the NWSL?

[Full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

2. Coaches, players with new teams getting extended practice time

For coaches like Dean Evason, Peter DeBoer, and John Hynes, and players like Ondrej Kase, J.G. Pageau, llya Kovalchuk, Tyler Toffoli, and Alec Martinez, they didn’t get a training camp with their new teams. These three weeks will allow the coaches the time to hammer home their systems and give the players the chance to gel with new teammates — some of whom they’ve only played with for a handful of games following the trade deadline.

“I love training camp,” Hynes said last month. “You can make a big difference as a coach in training camp. I think it’s how you plan it out and how organized you are, [and you can] hit the ground running. Players come in knowing the expectations, physically, mentally, how we want to practice… You have an opportunity to teach, install and condition, without games every other day. I’m really excited to get back with the group and build upon some things we liked, but also now we’ve got a chance to really iron out some things we want to be really good at.”

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3. Crease decisions

Tristan Jarry or Matt Murray? Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner? Devan Dubnyk or Alex Stalock? Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros? Igor Shesterkin or Henrik Lundqvist? Having two capable goalies could prove to be vital in this kind of format, but one has to take over the starting role at the beginning. Teams will be using these next three weeks to answer the question of who starts Game 1. Given those teams in the Qualifiers will be playing best-of-five series, how long exactly will be the leash be for the starters if there are early struggles?

4. Benefit of the break for defending champs

The dreaded Stanley Cup hangover didn’t affect the Blues during the regular season. Despite losing Vladimir Tarasenko in October, they rolled through the Western Conference and finished with the second-highest points percentage in the NHL (.662) after playing 71 games. Now they get Tarasenko back, and will come off a four and a half month break instead of going right back into the playoff grind again.

That’s good for the legs and what lies ahead. Only two teams have done the back-to-back since 1998. It’s never easy to get through four rounds, but this would be a unique circumstance for a repeat.

“They’re hungry. They want to get back,” said head coach Craig Berube. “We’ve got good motivation, I believe, coming back and playing and trying to repeat. Our guys are in a pretty good spot now.”

Four Blues players and a coach did test positive for COVID-19, but there hasn’t been an indication how that will affect the team at the beginning of camp.

5. How ready will top seeds be for First Round?

As the Stanley Cup Qualifiers are going on, the top four seeds in each conference will play three games to determine where they’ll stand in the First Round. What kind of level will those eight teams play at knowing they’re just playing for seeding, which doesn’t include traditional home ice? If you’re Bruce Cassidy or Jared Bednar or Jon Cooper or Todd Reirden, you’re not worried about wins and losses; your concern is getting your players back up to speed and your goalies ready for when the playoffs begin.

“We’re kind of setting the tone for how things are going to be moving forward,” said Reirden. “We’ll do everything we can to prepare our players to be ready for that round robin game where we can affect our seeding, and then in addition to that, going into our first playoff series against whoever that may be.”

MORE:
Hockey is back: NHL, NHLPA ratify CBA, return to play agreement
Salary cap to stay flat at $81.5 million

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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.

NHL Power Rankings: Off-season buyout candidates

Monday would have marked the latest day that the NHL’s buyout period would open. Per the CBA, the window begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded or “the later of June 15.”

Well, since this season is like no other, we won’t be seeing Commissioner Gary Bettman handing out the Cup until the fall — if that even happens at all.

The financial implications of the COVID-19 shutdown will have a major affect on the NHL’s salary cap going forward. Before the pause, it was believed that the 2020-21 cap ceiling would rise to between $84-$88.2 million. Now? It may remain at $81.5 million, squeezing some teams who have money committed and more extensions to give out.

That will cause plenty of teams to get creative in trying to get under the ceiling and be able to ice a competitive roster. Compliance buyouts have been discussed but owners are reportedly against them. While keeping the compliance buyouts costs off your books may not be an option once the NHL’s regular business resumes, traditional buyouts will still remain a tool for teams to ease the pressure on their salary cap picture.

In this week’s Power Rankings we take a look at five players who would make for prime buyout candidates this off-season.

1. Karl Alzner, Canadiens: It has been not a fun ride for Alzner in Montreal since signing a five-year, $23.125M deal in 2017. Since cashing in during free agency, the 31-year-old defenseman has played 95 games over three seasons with the Canadiens. He’s played nearly as many (87) with their AHL affiliate in the last two seasons. Alzner has two years left on a contract that carries a $4.625M cap hit, which includes a $1.5M signing bonus due this off-season.

A buyout would put a heavy hit on the Canadiens’ cap for next season — $3,958,333M — but for 2021-22 that would go down to $1,958,333M and then $833,333 in the final two years. Montreal is already at $63M committed for next season and that doesn’t include extensions for restricted free agents Max Domi and Victor Mete.

2. David Backes, Ducks: The 36-year-old forward was part of that 2016 free agent class of forgettable contracts that featured the likes of Frans Nielsen, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, and Troy Brouwer. Backes’ production and ice time diminished over his four seasons in Boston as he battled through injury and an inability to find a consistent spot in the lineup. He moved on in February in a deal that sent Ondrej Kase to the Bruins.

Anaheim is attempting to trend towards youth, and while a Backes buyout won’t free up a large amount of cap room ($3M in 2020-21, $750K in 2021-22), the move would open up a roster spot and ice time for one of their younger players. It would also help a team that is currently tied to nearly $76M in cap space for next season.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: The emergence of Igor Shesterkin has put Lundqvist’s future in New York in doubt. The 38-year-old netminder has one year remaining on his deal, which carries a pricey $8.5M cap hit. Considering the Rangers are in a transition phase and looking to get younger, getting out from Hank’s number would assist long-term in easing cap pain and helping continue to build for the future.

The Rangers spent big last summer, bringing in Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin. That’s put them with a little over $67M committed for next season. Due for extensions are RFAs Brendan Lemieux, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, and pending unrestricted free agent Jesper Fast. One more RFA who’s owed a new deal is goaltender and long-time piece of trade bait Alexandar Georgiev.

Buying out Lundqvist would mean $5.5M on the Rangers’ books next season, plus Shesterkin’s $925K and either a few million for Georgiev to be part of the picture or a cheap, veteran backup. New York’s cap picture in 2021-22 would see Lundqvist’s buyout hit drop to $1.5M.

Before any move happens with Lundqvist he has to agree to waive his no-move clause. GM Jeff Gorton could always seek a trade, but the goalie’s cap hit would make that difficult.

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4. Kyle Turris, Predators: Nashville has $72M committed for 2020-21 and it’s clear Turris’ place in their lineup has diminished. He’s been a healthy scratch at times and still has a $4M cap hit with him for the next four seasons. A buy out would put $2M on the Predators’ cap picture through 2027-28.

In a normal off-season there would always be the possibly of David Poile looking to dump Turris’ contract to a team looking to get above the cap floor. But that will likely not be an option for teams looking to unload money in a tight-cap world.

5. Loui Eriksson, Canucks: Part of that rich 2016 free agent class, Eriksson has not been able to recapture the scoring touch that saw him net over 25 goals four straight seasons in Dallas and hit 30 in his final year with the Bruins. In 245 games with the Canucks he’s scored only 38 times. If compliance buyouts were a thing, he’d be a no-brainer, but a regular buyout? That decision would be a tough one for GM Jim Benning.

Eriksson has two years left with a $6M cap hit per season. The Canucks would be stuck with $5,666,667M and $3,666,667M on their cap the first two seasons post-buyout before a more palatable $666,667 in the final two years. Right now they have almost $64M tied up for next season and have UFAs and RFAs to decide on like Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli, Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, Chris Tanev, and Troy Stetcher.

As Benning navigates this off-season for his transitioning Canucks, he’ll more certainly be keeping an eye on the summer of 2022. That off-season is when Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes can become RFAs. Cap room will be needed to re-sign those two cornerstone pieces.

All salary cap data via the wonderful CapFriendly

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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.

NHL Power Rankings: Six best playoff series of the decade

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What things do you look for in choosing the best NHL playoff series of the past decade?

The nail-biting action of sudden-death overtime? Grudges that inspire handshake line death threats?

(Please don’t say “lots of neutral-zone trap.” Even Jacques Lemaire would probably rather go fishing or something than watch that.)

During the weekend, the NHL and NHLPA made some traction toward a possible return to play, according to Pierre LeBrun. Even so, it’s pretty clear that if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs happen, it will require some juggling.

Would it all really be worth it? That’s an extremely fair question to ask. Even so, all of this free time and the possible resumption of play give us a chance to think about how great, baffling, and nerve-wracking playoff hockey can be.

Let’s look at the six best NHL playoff series of the decade. In no way am I combining certain ones and generally cheating, kind of making it more than six series. I would never do that.

6. Sharks, Golden Knights engage in one wild Game 7

Personally, I don’t think it’s out of place to put last year’s Golden Knights – Sharks series on this list. And, yes, it can make it on this list based on the strength of that bewildering Game 7 alone.

In a vacuum, that Game 7 already inspires wonder.

Cody Eakin got whistled for that controversial major penalty when he bloodied Joe Pavelski. In mere minutes, the Golden Knights’ 3-0 Game 7 lead vanished as the Sharks scored a ridiculous four power-play goals. Almost as remarkably, Jonathan Marchessault showed that Vegas wouldn’t just quit, sending it to overtime. Then barely-used Barclay Goodrow scored a tremendous series-winner:

Sprinkle in added context and that Game 7 gets spicier.

Both Eakin and Pavelski are now on other teams. The Golden Knights fired Gerard Gallant this season, replacing him with DeBoer, who Gallant called a “clown” during that series. Heck, even Goodrow is out of San Jose now.

5. Flyers complete “reverse” sweep against Bruins, Round 2 in 2009-10

It’s hard to believe it, but Pro Hockey Talk came into existence during the 2009-10 season, forming around the 2009-10 trade deadline. Let me tell you: the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs served as a playoff run that’s tough to top.

Beyond Patrick Kane‘s funky overtime goal becoming the first Stanley Cup-clincher for PHT, Jaroslav Halak and the Habs served up two stunning upsets to the Capitals and Penguins in respective seven-game series.

(The baffled face of Bruce Boudreau became quite the gift for meme enthusiasts.)

But the sheer chaos of the second-round series between the Bruins and Flyers takes the cake.

The Flyers became what was then the third (and now the fourth) NHL team to rage back from a 3-0 series deficit. Even according to those standards, Philly poured in extra drama.

It was almost a little too on-the-nose. Just like in the series, the Bruins took a jarring 3-0 lead in Game 7. Also like the series, the Flyers refused to roll over, eventually winning Game 7 4-3 in overtime thanks to a Simon Gagne goal.

4. Bruins torment Maple Leafs in Game 7’s, especially in 2012-13

Aside from a respectable first-round series loss to the Capitals in 2016-17, every Maple Leafs season since 2005-06 ended in one of two ways:

  • Missing the playoffs.
  • Or losing to the Bruins in a heartbreaking Game 7.

We didn’t know it yet, but the “it was 4-1” nightmare ended up being the most horrific part of a terrifying trilogy. After serving as the slasher movie villain who wouldn’t die in 2012-13, the Bruins kept hunting down the Maple Leafs in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

(Nazem Kadri definitely served as the horror movie character who investigates that strange noise. Or maybe he was the person who did something last summer? I can’t decide.)

That Game 7 on May 13, 2013 remains dizzying. The Maple Leafs were up 4-1 5:29 into the third period, yet that lead unraveled during a series of events that remains hard to believe. Ultimately, Patrice Bergeron ended the series at 5-4 with an overtime-winner.

Again, repeated Game 7 letdowns open up these old wounds, and create new ones for Maple Leafs fans. Ouch.

3. Another seven-game series between the Capitals and Penguins (2016-17)

How about we just cobble together all of the great series the Capitals and/or Penguins were in during the decade? When in doubt, go with Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.

After all, they both faced the Lightning in seven-game series. For sheer brutality and inanity, you could absolutely argue that the Flyers beating the Penguins in six games in 2011-12 should be a top-five series. And, of course, it was epic when the Capitals finally slayed the Penguins dragon in 2017-18.

But in boiling down this list to a manageable size, let’s go with another series that went seven between these two teams.

A truly fantastic Capitals team seemed to “choke,” falling behind 3-1 in the series. It’s easy forget that they defiantly forced a Game 7, though, because the Penguins ended up winning 2-0. Some rare tough moments for Braden Holtby set the stage for that redemptive run to win the Stanley Cup in 2018.

2. A riotous 2011 Stanley Cup Final series between the Canucks and Bruins

For a long time, I thought this series should be number one. It tops the list if you weigh memorable moments most heavily.

No doubt, the riots in Vancouver after Game 7 were ugly. It was also hard to look away.

The messiness started before all of the property damage, though. Tim Thomas didn’t want to “pump Roberto Luongo’s tires.” Brad Marchand was, well, Brad Marchand to the Sedin twins. An Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton backfired for the Canucks.

There was just so much going on. And, going by my tiebreaker standards, the Canucks also finally beat the Blackhawks earlier in that postseason.

But the actual hockey was hit-or-miss, at least compared to the best-of-the-best. Just look at the anticlimactic Game 7 itself, which the Bruins won 4-0.

Still, that was some wild stuff.

1. Kings beat Blackhawks in best NHL playoff series of the decade (2013-14)

As tempted as I was to go with riots and deflated tires, the epic back-and-forth between two of the best teams of the decade ultimately swayed me.

From 2009-10 through 2014-15, the Blackhawks and Kings won five of the six Stanley Cups. That 2014 Western Conference Final ended up being the peak of that rivalry.

From a Game 5 that required double overtime, to a Game 7 that also stretched beyond regulation, the hockey was truly sublime.

No doubt, the Kings pulling off the fourth-ever “reverse sweep” helped sway me, too. Los Angeles didn’t just come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Sharks. They absolutely roared back, winning those last four games by a combined score of 19-5.

Drew Doughty claimed he saw fear in the eyes of his Sharks opponents. Can you blame him for saying that after such a rally?

It turned out that the Kings would not be denied that postseason, and I cannot deny that their battle with the Blackhawks was the best of a strong decade of playoff series for the NHL.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:
Teams with the best long-term outlook
Looking at the top 2020 free agents
Best 2019-20 free agent signings
The most underrated players
Our favorite classic Costacos Brothers hockey posters
How to spice up a possible virtual 2020 NHL Draft

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Not ours, someone else’s

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We’ve discussed doing NHL power rankings on PHT, but they take a lot of work, so every once in a while we’ll link to someone else’s power rankings and comment on those instead.

source: Getty Images

Today, we’re discussing Pat Leonard’s rankings at NYDailyNews.com:

source:

A few thoughts:

—-Based on recent play, Nashville (9-1-0 in last 10 games) deserves to be in the No. 3 spot. Yes, even ahead of Boston and Vancouver. The Bruins have lost four of their last seven and the Canucks haven’t been particularly impressive since beating the B’s in that barnburner three weeks ago.

—-No real issue with the Rangers on top. If Detroit had beaten Montreal in its last game before the All-Star break for an eighth straight win (instead of getting blown out, 7-2), I’d have put the Red Wings first.

—-Ottawa at No. 9 is a real stretch. The Sens went into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak. They’re also the only team in the NHL that’s played 52 games, so their 11th place in the overall standings is slightly deceiving.

—-The Kings at No. 18 is extremely unfair. In their last 18 games, they’ve only lost twice in regulation.

—-The Ducks are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. I’d say they’re playing better than just Carolina and Edmonton.

—-Buffalo should be lower than No. 24, at least below the Ducks and Islanders. The Sabres have one regulation win in their last 10, a stretch that’s seen them score just 15 goals. And it’s not just their last 10 games — they’ve been awful since mid-December.

—-The Oilers are better than one team, and one team only.

NHL Power Rankings: Not ours, someone else’s

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We’ve discussed doing NHL power rankings on PHT, but they take a lot of work, so every once in a while we’ll link to someone else’s power rankings and comment on those instead.

source: Getty Images

Today, we’re discussing Scott Cullen’s rankings at TSN.ca, published today (Dec. 13).

source:

A few thoughts:

—-Agree with the Rangers at the top. After a two-game hiccup versus the Leafs and Lightning, New York destroyed Buffalo and Florida, 4-1 and 6-1, respectively. Everyone knew the Rangers could play defense, but now they’re starting to put the puck in the net. In their last nine games, they’ve scored at least four goals in six of them.

—-Canucks all the way up to No. 2, inching ahead of the Bruins. It’s pretty much a coin toss between Vancouver, Boston and Detroit. All three are playing great hockey and outscoring their opposition by a wide margin. Cullen dropped the B’s to No. 3 because Zdeno Chara is injured. Fair enough. He’s good.

—-Wild fans: furious. First overall in the standings, No. 8 in the rankings. To be fair to Cullen, his methodology is statistically based, and Minnesota’s goal differential (plus-15) is only seventh best in the NHL. Still deserve to be higher though.

—-I’d put the Wild ahead of the Panthers. Florida’s a pretty pedestrian 5-3-2 in its last 10 and, as mentioned, just got blown out by the Rangers.

—-I’d put the Blues ahead of the Panthers, too. St. Louis has at least a point in 14 of the 16 games its played under coach Ken Hitchcock. Last week, the Blues beat Detroit and San Jose.

—-Absolutely no way the Oilers (No. 15) should be that high. They’re 5-10-1 in their last 16. They lost at home to Carolina last week. Edmonton’s not a good team.

—-Nashville at No. 12 is generous. The Preds are 4-6-1 in their last 11. True, they’re won two in a row, but they needed a miracle finish to beat the Blue Jackets Thursday and barely got by Anaheim Saturday.