Nicklas Backstrom

PHT Face-Off: Kovalchuk’s trade value; Who hits 1,000 points next?

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It’s the start of a new week, which means it’s time for the PHT Face-off. We’ll look at numbers and trends around the NHL ahead of all the action coming your way over the next seven days.

Let’s go!

Who will hit 1,000 points next?

On Sunday, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane hit the 1,000-point mark for his career. The 31-year-old did it pretty quickly, as it only took him 953 games to reach the milestone. But which active players are scheduled to hit that number next?

Assuming good health, Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf should be the next one to 1,000. He currently has 956 points, which means he should reach 1,000 sometime next season. Again, it depends how healthy he is, but it should come sooner than later.

Leafs forward Jason Spezza has 933 points, but he appears to be running out of steam. Will he play long enough to accumulate 67 more points? He’s on pace for 34 this year. That means he’ll get 16 more than he already has, which would leave him 51 points away. Is he going to play two more seasons?

Kings center Anze Kopitar is right behind Spezza with 931 points. The 32-year-old has 43 points in 50 games in 2019-20. That would put him on pace for 71 points this year. Like Getzlaf, if Kopitar stays healthy, he should find a way to reach this milestone sometime next season.

And considering Nicklas Backstrom just signed a new extension with the Washington Capitals, he should have plenty of time to hit 1,000. Backstrom has 911 points in his career and he’s currently at 38 points in 41 games this season. The 32-year-old has been pretty healthy during his career, so he should be able to get to that number in short order.

Merzlikins on quite a roll

Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins has turned his season around since Joonas Korpisalo was injured on Dec. 29. The 25-year-old is 8-2-0 in 10 games since Korpisalo went down, and he’s given up two goals or fewer in seven of those outings. The Jackets have one more home game (Wednesday against Winnipeg) before they get to enjoy their lengthy break.

What has this recent run meant for the Blue Jackets?

Well, as of right now, they’ve found a way to put themselves in the first Wild Card spot. There’s several reasons they’ve been able to overcome the losses of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, but the recent play of their goaltenders is near the top of the list.

Whether or not Merzlikins can keep this up remains to be seen.

Are the days of the $9-million (or more) goalie done? The Blue Jackets sure seem to be poking holes in the “pay big money for a goalie” theory.

What’s Kovalchuk worth on trade market?

Earlier this month, not many teams were willing to roll the dice on Ilya Kovalchuk. The Montreal Canadiens did, and the move has paid off in a pretty significant way so far. The 36-year-old has looked nothing like the player that suited up for the Los Angeles Kings over the last two years. He’s been quicker than advertised and he’s found ways to put up points.

In eight games with the Habs, he’s scored four goals and four assists. He also added a goal in the shootout against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night.

Now, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has to decide whether or not to keep Kovalchuk or trade him before the Feb. 24 deadline. With the Habs seven points out of a playoff spot, you’d think that they may look to get an asset or two in return for the veteran winger. Maybe there’s a trade and a side deal reached for next year, but it’ll be interesting to see what the market him is at this point.

Three weeks ago, nobody was willing to touch him. Now, could there be a bidding war for Kovalchuk? If he can keep rolling at this pace (that’s a big “if”), teams will be interested. What makes him even more of an intriguing addition, is that his cap hit is for $700,000. He’s only going to play half a season, so in reality he’ll make just $350,000 this year.

Teams looking for secondary scoring could do worse than Kovalchuk. Bergevin has the opportunity to turn this into a home run move.

What will Penguins do in goal?

What are the Pittsburgh Penguins going to do with their goaltending situation in the second half of the season? It’s an interesting question. Tristan Jarry has carried the load for the last little while, but Matt Murray appears to be played himself back in the picture recently.

Murray has started and won back-to-back games. Now, those games haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been encouraging. After he stopped 28 of 29 shots in a win over Detroit on Friday night, head coach Mike Sullivan went to him again on Sunday afternoon against Boston.

The 25-year-old and his team got off to a rocky start in the first period. They went down 3-0 and the Pittsburgh faithful even gave their starting netminder the Bronx cheer. But Murray settled down and the Pens eventually came back to win the game.

So, who gets the start against Philadelphia on Tuesday night? Do they go back to Jarry or do they give Murray a third straight opportunity right before the break?

Here’s an interesting stat:

What’s coming up this week?
• Afternoon Hockey: Red Wings vs. Avs, Mon. Jan. 20, 3 p.m. ET.
• Islanders vs. Rangers for the third time in eight days, Tue. Jan. 21, 7 p.m. ET.
• Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville is back in Chicago for the first time since his firing, Tues. Jan. 21, 8:30 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBCSN
• Penguins vs. Flyers, Tue. Jan. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET.
• NHL Skills Competition, Fri. Jan. 24, 8 p.m. ET. (NBCSN)

NHL on NBCSN
• NHL All-Star Game, Sat. Jan. 25, 8 p.m. ET. (NBC)

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Red Wings vs. Wild, Wed. Jan. 22, 8 p.m. ET. (NBCSN)

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: Tkachuk vs. Kassian; reacting to Shero’s firing

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Kathryn Tappen, Keith Jones and Anson Carter break down the incident between Matthew Tkachuk and Zack Kassian. They react to the firing of GM Ray Shero and discuss how the Devils can turn things around. Jones also tells a wild story about being his own agent, but explains how it didn’t work out as well as it did for Nicklas Backstrom. Plus, a conversation with Avs rookie Cale Makar.

0:00-1:25 Intros
1:21-11:25 Tkachuk vs. Kassian: Who was in the wrong?
11:25-22:30 Reaction to Devils firing GM Ray Shero
22:30-32:40 Interview with star Avs rookie Cale Makar
32:40-end Jones has a wild story about negotiating his own contract

Our Line Starts is part of NBC Sports’ growing roster of podcasts spanning the NFL, Premier League, NASCAR, and much more. The new weekly podcast, which will publish Wednesdays, will highlight the top stories of the league, including behind-the-scenes content and interviews conducted by NBC Sports’ NHL commentators.

Where you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Capitals sign Nicklas Backstrom to five-year, $46M extension

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The Washington Capitals face big questions about their future, but Nicklas Backstrom will remain a part of it. The Capitals were able to sign Backstrom to a five-year, $46 million contract extension on Tuesday.

Backstrom, 32, will see that $9.2M AAV kick in starting in 2020-21, and then expire after 2024-25. Interestingly, Evgeny Kuznetsov ($7.8M cap hit) and T.J. Oshie ($5.75M) also see their deals expire after that 2024-25 campaign.

Apparently Backstrom negotiated his own contract, focusing on getting top dollar, while the Caps wanted to account for his age:

Backstrom has ranked as one of the NHL’s more underappreciated stars for years. The Capitals note that he leads the franchise in assists (668) and is also the only active player to generate 50+ assists in six consecutive seasons. Backstrom ranks second in franchise history in points (908), second only to Alex Ovechkin (1,255).

A quick cap outlook after Capitals sign Backstrom

Going truly deep on the Capitals’ future decisions is probably the job for a full post, but we can take a quick peek.

Cap Friendly places Washington’s cap spending at about $71.1M on 16 roster spots heading into 2020-21. If the ceiling remains around $81.5M, that would leave the Caps with about $10.4M in space.

Such comments serve as a reminder that the Capitals face other tough decisions, both soon and off in the distance.

Most pressingly, Braden Holtby (30, current cap hit: $6.1M) needs a new contract after this season. Ilya Samsonov may or may not be the future. If the Capitals find some way to sign Holtby, it would probably require making painful omissions elsewhere.

The Capitals also must determine what Alex Ovechkin’s next contract will look like. The 34-year-old’s $9.538M cap hit runs out after 2020-21.

It will be fascinating to see how Backstrom ages. His smart, borderline Selke-worthy style may grow old quite gracefully. Still, it’s kind of startling to realize that he’s 32 already. Some old folks might take that as a reminder of our (er, their!) mortality.

Did the Capitals make the right call with this hefty extension? Did Backstrom make a mistake by haggling on his own? What should the Caps do with Holtby and others?

With the Capitals running rampant over the league and not that far removed from that glorious Stanley Cup, extending Backstrom certainly feels like a crowd-pleaser right now, at least. Frankly, the slick Swede was so underpaid before, it also seems fair.

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.

Sharks give away crucial point with late meltdown against Capitals

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It is going to take an incredible second half for the San Jose Sharks to play their way back into playoff position. They need wins, and a lot of them. They were in a prime position on Sunday afternoon to pick up one of their most impressive wins of the season and were one minute away from winning their third game in a row by beating one of the league’s best teams in Washington.

Then everything fell apart.

The Sharks gave up two goals in the final 47 seconds of regulation, and then a game-winning goal to Lars Eller two minutes into overtime, to drop a 5-4 decision to the Capitals.

How they got there

Evander Kane had a massive game for the Sharks, scoring three goals for his second hat trick of the season to give the Sharks a 3-2 lead late in the third period.

When Logan Couture scored an empty-net goal with one minute to play in regulation to increase the lead to 4-2 everything seemed to wrapped up for the Sharks. Things quickly unraveled from there.

Off the ensuing face-off the Capitals easily gained entry into the Sharks’ zone and then capitalized on a failed clear when Jakub Vrana scored on a spinning shot from between the circles. That cut the deficit to one.

Just 32 seconds later T.J. Oshie scored the game-tying goal when he found a soft spot in the Sharks’ defense and ripped a one-timer into the back of the net. It was all set up by a slick passing play in the corner by Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Here is the game-tying sequence in the closing minute.

Bougher looks for positives

If you’re a Sharks fan and want to look at the bright side of things, they did go on the road and get a point from the best team in the league.

And for 59 minutes they did play really well. That was the message coach Bob Boughner tried to send across in his post-game interview.

“It’s tough to let that one get away, 4-2 with a minute to go. Third period we didn’t allow a lot 5-on-5, defensively we were pretty tight. You can take a million great things out of this game for us, but that’s why they lead the league, why they have the most points because they find ways to win games.

“As disappointed as I am, I am pretty content on the way our 5-on-5 game looks. You get a couple break downs, we don’t get one out on the wall in the 6-on-5. It comes back in our net. We ice one, we can’t get a couple centers out there on the next face-off, and things happen. All of that is forgotten if you score in overtime. We had a post, two-on-one, and a breakaway. That’s the way the game goes. We just have to concentrate on getting a day of rest tomorrow and taking the positives out of this one for the St. Louis game.”

Where they go from here

Bougher’s outlook is surprisingly optimistic given the way that game ended and where the Sharks are in the standings, but he’s also not entirely wrong.

The Sharks did do a lot of good things. There were positives to take out of it. And they have collected at least one point in five of their past six games (eight out of a possible 12). It is not hard to see things trending in a better direction. But still, when you are that far out of a playoff spot with that many teams ahead of you and have a chance to secure that second point you have to get it. You can not allow two goals in the final 60 seconds.

Things do not get any easier from here.

The Sharks’ schedule over the rest of January gets really intense, really fast. Their next 10 opponents include St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas, Arizona, Vancouver (twice), Columbus, and Tampa Bay. Other than Columbus (who is on an 8-1-4 run), all of those teams are currently in a playoff position and are among the hottest teams in the league.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: 2020 wish lists; Backstrom’s contract negotiations

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• ESPN’s latest power rankings break down a wish in 2020 for every team in the NHL. (ESPN)

• The Hockey News breaks down the top 10 individual performances of the decade at the World Juniors. (The Hockey News)

• Who is the most valuable player to his team? (Sportsnet)

• Why haven’t the Caps and Nicklas Backstrom come to an agreement on a new contract? (Washington Capitals)

• The Devils continue hesitating when it comes to shooting the puck. (NJ.com)

• Check out the New York Rangers’ top 10 trades of the decade. (Blue Shirt Banter)

• Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau should be at the NHL All-Star game. (Rat Trick)

• What should Anthony Duclair‘s next contract look like? (Silver Seven Sens)

Jeff Skinner‘s 5-on-5 impact on the Sabres goes beyond points. (Die By the Blade)

• Craig Berube might become the best coach in Blues franchise history. (Bleedin Blue)

• As weird as this may sound, the Golden Knights are a force at 4-on-4. (Sinbin.Vegas)

Craig Smith is about to erupt for the Predators. (Predlines)

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.