Nico Hischier

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Hischier replaces Palmieri as Devils’ All-Star Game rep

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Nico Hischier replaced Kyle Palmieri as the New Jersey Devils’ representative for the 2020 NHL All-Star Game. (Palmieri suffered an injury blocking a shot during the Devils’ upset win over the Lightning on Sunday.)

This marks the first All-Star Game appearance for Hischier, 21, the first pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

There might be a temptation to throw Hischier in with the Devils’ many problems. After all, the Devils lucked into two top overall picks (with Jack Hughes being the latest from 2019), made strong trades including landing Taylor Hall, yet couldn’t get it done.

Don’t blame Hischier, though.

The Swiss-born center ranks among the Devils’ brightest spots — alongside Palmieri, honestly. The young forward brings plenty to the table while rarely taking anything away. Consider his heatmap from Hockey Viz as just one illustration of Hischier’s many strengths:

If standard offensive stats work better for you, Hischier passes those tests, unless you’re grading him too harshly based on his draft status. Hischier ranks second on the Devils in scoring (28 points in 40 games), trailing only Palmieri (31 points in 44). In case you’re wondering, Hall was at 25 points in 30 games before being traded to the Coyotes.

The Devils need more players like Hischier. If his career trajectory continues as such, we also might see more of Hischier in future All-Star Games.

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2020 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
All-Star Game rosters
NHL All-Star Game captains
All-Star Game coaches
Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game

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.

Where it all went wrong for Ray Shero and the Devils

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The New Jersey Devils fired general manager Ray Shero over the weekend, ending his four-and-a-half year run with the team.

On the surface, it’s not hard to see why the decision was made. Given the circumstances, it was inevitable.

The Devils have been a massive disappointment this season after a huge offseason, and were on track to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years under Shero’s watch. Not many general managers are going to make it through that sort of run unscathed. Especially when you consider how high expectations were in the preseason after the additions of top pick Jack Hughes and the acquisitions of Nikita Gusev, P.K. Subban, and Wayne Simmonds.

So where did it all go wrong for Shero and the Devils?

We should start with the very beginning.

1. Shero inherited a mess

While the lack of progress is the thing that will stand out in the wake of the change, it can not be understated how bad of a situation Shero walked into when he was hired by the Devils in May of 2015.

The Devils were coming off of a 2014-15 season where they had one of the worst records in the league, had missed the playoffs three years in a row, had a barren farm system, and had what was by far the oldest roster in the league.

Things were bleak. Very bleak.

Consider…

  • Seven of the top-12 scorers on the 2014-15 season were age 32 or older. Five of them were out of the NHL completely within two years.
  • Of the 35 players that appeared in a game that season, 18 of them were out of the NHL within the next two years.
  • Only two players on the team recorded more than 40 points, and nobody scored more than 43.

It was a team of fringe NHL players that were not only not very good, but were on their way out of the league.

Combine that with a mostly empty farm system and there wasn’t a lot to build on.

He had to start from the ground level and try to build a contender out of nothing. That was always going to take time.

2. The trades always seemed to look good on paper…

… But the timing and the luck was never on the Devils’ side.

Given the lack of quality talent on the NHL roster, Shero had to work quick to bring in talent from outside the organization. And when you break down his individual trades, he almost always seemed to come out on the winning side of them.

Getting Kyle Palmieri for a couple of draft picks was a steal.

He pounced on the Capitals’ salary cap crunch and picked up Marcus Johansson for two draft picks.

Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall was one of the biggest one-for-one steals in recent league memory.

The same thing happened this summer when he managed to get Subban and Gusev for next to nothing. Combined with a pair of No. 1 overall draft picks (Nico Hischier and Hughes) and there was a huge influx of talent on paper over the past couple of years.

But for one reason or another, the results never followed.

For as promising of an addition as Johansson was, his time with the Devils was ruined by injuries that prevented him from ever making an extended impact.

Subban and Simmonds were big-name pickups this summer, but it has become increasingly clear as the season has gone on that he got them at the end of their careers.

There was even some bad luck with Hall when he lost almost the entire 2018-19 season to injury.

3. Cory Schneider rapidly declined, and the Devils never adjusted in goal

This might be the single biggest factor in the Devils’ lack of progress under Shero.

When he joined the Devils he had one franchise cornerstone that he could build around, and that was starting goalie Cory Schneider. And he was a legit building block.

Coming off the 2014-15 season Schneider was one of the best goalies in the league. Between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 seasons he owned the best save percentage in the NHL (minimum 100 games played) and was just beginning a long-term contract that was going to keep him in New Jersey for the next seven seasons.

He was also still at an age where his career shouldn’t have been in danger of falling off. But after one more elite season in 2015-16, Schneider’s career did exactly that. It fell apart.  After his 30th birthday Schneider went into a sudden and rapid decline that sunk him to the bottom tier of NHL starting goalies.

This is where Shero’s biggest failing in New Jersey came into play. He never found a goalie to replace Schneider. That was the biggest question mark heading into this season, and the play of their goalies this season has been one of the biggest factors in their disappointing performance.

Shero’s tenure with the Devils is a fascinating one to look at from a distance. He inherited a team that had absolutely nothing to build around and tried to swing for the fences with some big additions over the years. He made a lot of the right moves and brought in legitimate top-line talent. But some bad injury luck (Johansson; Hall a year ago), a couple of star players declining (Schneider, Subban), and his inability to make the one big move that he needed (a goalie) helped hold back what started as a promising season. The 2019-20 season ended up being one losing season too many for the Devils.

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Kovalchuk, Toffoli among this week’s top adds

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Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Ilya Kovalchuk, Canadiens – LW/RW: Kovalchuk didn’t work out with the Los Angeles Kings and that eventually ended with his contract being terminated. However, he still clearly can offer something offensively in the right situation. That situation seems to exist with his new team, the Montreal Canadiens. Through four games they’ve given him an average of 19:57 minutes and he’s rewarded him with a goal and four points.

Jake DeBrusk, Bruins – LW/RW: DeBrusk is in his third NHL season and though he’s been a solid contributor right from the start, he hasn’t found that next level yet. His upside makes him interesting to watch, but if nothing else, he’s at least a good short-term grab with three goals and five points in his last three games. He wouldn’t be terrible to own even after he cools down, but you certainly shouldn’t feel obligated to keep him.

Nathan Gerbe, Blue Jackets – LW: Gerbe is a roll of the dice, but an interesting one. The 32-year-old was a regular in the NHL from 2010-11 through 2015-16, but from 2016-17 through 2018-19 he played in all of two NHL games. During that time he had a stint in the Swiss league and spent time with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. He’s been putting in the time though in hopes of getting another shot. In 2018-19 he had 32 points in 41 AHL games and then he had 25 points in 30 AHL games this season. That led to him getting a call up on Dec. 22nd and he’s stuck with the Blue Jackets since. He’s been a regular contributor since then with three goals and six points in 10 contests while averaging 14:32 minutes. That offensive production has been spread out with him not being held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games yet. There’s enough to like here to give him a chance if you’re hurting for a left winger, though he’s definitely a high-risk pickup given that he might not even stay in the NHL.

Vincent Trocheck, Panthers – C: Trocheck is on a four-game point streak and has two goals and 12 points in his last 12 games. He’s worth grabbing while he’s hot, especially given that this might develop into a strong second half overall for him. Trocheck isn’t that far removed from his amazing 2017-18 campaign when he scored 31 goals and 75 points in 82 games and while he won’t come close to those totals this season, he’s still capable of being an asset in fantasy leagues.

Esa Lindell, Stars – D: Lindell is one of those players who is more valuable to his team than he is to fantasy owners. He contributes offensively, but not to the extent that he’s more than a borderline option in standard leagues. Lately he’s been far more than that though. He has eight assists in his last six games. He’ll cool down and at that point you’ll want to look at your other options, but for now he’s a solid gamble.

Derek Ryan, Flames – C: Ryan is on a hot streak right now with two goals and five points in six contests. He’s not worth owning outside of his hot streak, in part because of his center-only eligibility, but on the plus side this season is shaping up to be a step forward for him. He has eight goals and 24 points in 47 games, putting him well on his way to topping his career-high of 38 points, which he set in 2017-18 and matched in 2018-19.

Matt Martin, Islanders – LW: If you’re ever hurting in the hits category, Martin is the answer. He won’t do much else, but with 141 hits in 31 contests, he’s one of the best sources of hits in the league. If you are going to pick him up, now is a particularly good time because of the Islanders’ packed schedule. They’ll play against Detroit on Tuesday, the Rangers on Thursday, Washington on Saturday, Carolina on Sunday, and the Rangers again on Tuesday, Jan. 21st before they finally get a breather for the All-Star break. The end result is that you should get plenty of hits out of Martin in a short span of time and after that you can replace him with a player who will help you in more categories.

Tyler Toffoli, Kings – LW/RW: Toffoli got off to a slow start this season with six goals and 13 points in 30 games, but he’s heated up with six goals and 14 points in his last 16 contests. He’s been something of an inconsistent player in his career with him never matching his highs of 31 goals and 58 points set back in 2015-16. His more recent success does give some reason for cautious optimism in the second half of the campaign though.

Nico Hischier, Devils – C: Hischier has been at the top of his game lately with six goals and 10 points in his last nine contests. It’s been interesting because this jump started after the Hall trade. At least in part, this is probably a hot streak from Hischier and he’ll fizzle out, but there’s also a chance that he’s taking the lead a bit more in the post-Hall Devils.

Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks – LW/RW: I mentioned Kubalik last week too, but because he’s still only owned in 15% of Yahoo leagues, he’s worth bringing up again. The rookie forward has been outstanding lately with eight goals and 13 points in 11 contests. A contributing factor to his recent success has been him playing on a line with Jonathan Toews. As long as that continues to be the case, he should be a significant fantasy asset.

Players You May Want To Drop

Nick Schmaltz, Coyotes – C/LW/RW: Schmaltz has had a couple amazing stretches this season with his most recent coming from Dec. 17-Jan. 4. Over the nine games he played during that span, he scored a goal and 12 points. The problem is that he’s also been inconsistent this season. From Nov. 9-Dec. 6, he had just six points in 15 games. So you have to wonder if we’re in the start of another prolonged cold streak given that he’s now gone four straight games without a point.

Clayton Keller, Coyotes – LW/RW: It shouldn’t come as much surprise that Schmaltz’s regular linemate is also struggling. For Keller though, he’s been cold for significantly longer. Keller has just two goals and three points in nine contests. He’s something of a frustrating player because his rookie season was so good, but he took a significant step back as a sophomore and while his third campaign is shaping out to be better, he’s still falling shy of his promise. He’s 21-years-old so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him breakout in the future, but for now he’s very much a mixed bag.

Mikko Koskinen, Oilers – G: Koskinen endured a rough stretch from Dec. 21-31 where he allowed at least three goals in four straight games. After that slump, Mike Smith started in four consecutive games and took full advantage of the opportunity, posting a 3-0-1 record, 2.49 GAA, and .926 save percentage in that span. Koskinen finally got another shot on Saturday, but allowed four goals on 33 shots in a 4-3 loss to Calgary. There will be other chances for Koskinen, but he’s pretty mediocre anyways so you should always be examining your other options.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: Duclair has already set a new career-high this season with 21 goals in 44 games, but that’s largely due to an incredible stretch from Dec. 4-21 where he scored 11 goals in nine contests and was enjoying an unsustainable 36.7 shooting percentage. Since then he hasn’t scored another goal and because his value is so heavily dependent on goals, that’s a big problem. To be fair, he’s been a pretty intriguing player for a long time now and he’s enjoying a bigger role with the Ottawa Senators than he’s ever had, so there are reasons to hope for him to have a strong second half. However, given his streaky nature, it’s not unreasonable to regard him as a situational pickup who has fallen out of favor for now, but may be worth scooping back up later.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: With nine goals and 27 points in 44 games and just eligibility as a center, Cirelli isn’t a particularly good option in fantasy leagues. He has enjoyed some great stretches though, which makes him worth keeping an eye on. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. He’s gone six straight games without a point immediately following a far more pleasant stretch of two goals and five points in four contests.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

The Buzzer: Lightning score 9 goals; Predators lose big in Hynes debut

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Three Stars

1. Carter Verhaeghe, Tampa Bay Lightning. They are back. The Lightning won their eighth game in a row on Tuesday night by running the Vancouver Canucks out of the building in a 9-2 win. There were a lot of players that could have been a star in this one, including Brayden Point (four points) and Steven Stamkos (two goals). But top star honors go to Verhaeghe for his first career hat trick. Entering play on Tuesday the 24-year-old rookie had just two goals and four assists this season in 28 games. He topped that goal total against the Canucks. The nine goals tied a franchise record for the Lightning.

2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes were able to inch back ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights for first place in the Pacific Division (tied in points, but Arizona has played one fewer game) thanks to their 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Ekman-Larsson was a beast in this game with a goal, two assists, four shots on goal, and finishing as a plus-two while playing a game-high 24 minutes. Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall also had big games for the Coyotes were able to get two points while playing with their third-string goalie (Adin Hill).

3. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. As if the free agent departures were not enough to deal with, the Blue Jackets have also been dealing with a seemingly never-ending list of injuries. Despite all of that they are still right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and this guy is one of the biggest reasons why. He scored two third period goals on Tuesday to help lead the Blue Jackets to a 4-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks. They are now tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for the second Wild Card spot in the East with 50 points. Werenski now has 15 goals for the season, tops among all NHL defenseman. That puts him on pace for 30 goals this season.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • Artemi Panarin had three points for the New York Rangers as they were 5-3 winners over the Colorado Avalanche. Read more about their win here.
  • New coach, same result for the Nashville Predators. They lost John Hynes’ coaching debut in the music city by a 6-2 margin to the Boston Bruins. They have now lost five out of their past six games.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored two goals for the Washington Capitals as they were big winners over the Ottawa Senators.
  • Anders Lee scored the overtime winner for the New York Islanders as they were winners over the New Jersey Devils.
  • The Montreal Canadiens lost their seventh game in a row, this time losing to the Detroit Red Wings. Frans Nielsen scored two goals for the Red Wings while Filip Zadina continued his strong play with another goal.
  • Another game-winning goal for David Perron as the St. Louis Blues snapped their three-game losing streak with a win against the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks lost Logan Couture to injury in that game. Read more about it here.
  • On the same day they were added to the NHL All-Star Game (read more about that here) Kris Letang and Tristan Jarry played great games for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 4-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
  • Elias Lindholm provided all the offense for the Calgary Flames in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. For Lindholm, it was the 500th game of his NHL career.

Highlights of the Night

Dougie Hamilton might be the best defenseman in the NHL right now (read about it here), and he scored a beauty in overtime for the Carolina Hurricanes. They also signed Justin Williams to a one-year contract on a big Tuesday night for them. Read more about that here.

What an incredible individual effort here by New Jersey Devils young star Nico Hischier.

The Lightning scored six goals in the second period, including these three in under a minute.

 

Blooper of the Night

It takes a lot of confidence to try this move in a game, especially when you are losing at the time. It will probably make your coach pretty unhappy if you end up losing the game. Fortunately for Andrei Svechnikov, the Hurricanes won.

Factoids

  • Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan gets his 200th win with the team. [NHL PR]
  • Alex Ovechkin’s two goals move him into a tie with Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]
  • Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak now has an 11-game point streak, the longest active point streak in the NHL. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 9, Vancouver Canucks 2
Arizona Coyote 5, Florida Panthers 2
New York Islanders 4, New Jersey Devils 3 (OT)
Washington Capitals 6, Ottawa Senators 1
Carolina Hurricanes 5, Philadelphia Flyers 4 (OT)
New York Rangers 5, Colorado Avalanche 3
Detroit Red Wings 4, Montreal Canadiens 3
St. Louis Blues 3, San Jose Sharks 2
Boston Bruins 6, Nashville Predators 2
Calgary Flames 2, Chicago Blackhawks 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Anaheim Ducks 3

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.

Can Hynes succeed with Predators where Laviolette failed?

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The Nashville Predators actually did it. They fired Peter Laviolette, and then hired John Hynes in a dizzying span.

The dream is that Hynes can sculpt this lump of underachieving clay back into contending shape. How well do such imaginings line up with reality, though? Let’s consider the way things might or might not change for the Predators.

Good Cop/Bad Cop?

In sports, teams sometimes opt to rotate approaches. First, you hire a “yeller” to scream out the procrastinators. Then you soothe various wounds with a “player-friendly” coach … or vice versa.

The Predators might be aiming for such a dynamic.

While plenty (including Babcock-blasting Mike Commodore) showed fondness for Laviolette over the years, the word “intense” comes up over and over in describing the coach. The Tennessean’s Joe Rexrode summed up some of that intensity in a May 2017 column:

This is a man whose default setting is “cold glare” when he enters a room. A seemingly humorless man, a professional sourpuss, a coach who can detect bad intentions in the most harmless of questions.

When Hynes was fired, it was striking to see just how many people went out of their ways to support him. The praise ranged from players including Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier to former front office members.

Affixing Hynes with a white hat and Laviolette with a twirly villain’s mustache would, again, be a bit extreme. Laviolette showed a sense of humor in being the butt of a joke, after all, while some wonder if Hynes favored veterans over younger players in New Jersey.

Still, in a broad, “macro” sense, you could argue that the Predators shifted from a stern to a gentler touch.

Hynes upgrading offense after it wilted under Laviolette?

After hiring Laviolette, Predators GM David Poile (understandably) hyped Laviolette’s “aggressive offensive philosophy.”

Laviolette justified such claims — for a time. After all, a franchise that once spent first-round picks to land Paul Gaustad was now emphasizing offensive acquisitions from Filip Forsberg to Ryan Johansen to Matt Duchene.

Whatever happened along the way — maybe the message faded, perhaps the league passed Laviolette by — the Predators’ offense plummeted. This thread from Micah Blake McCurdy argues that Hynes may improve Nashville’s system, even just by default.

Hynes provides a clean slate for those who fell in Laviolette’s doghouse

Following Sunday’s uglier-than-it-seemed shootout loss to the Ducks (which may have been the final straw for Lavy, depending upon whom you ask), Preds winger Craig Smith implied that Nashville’s system became bogged down by details.

“Sometimes maybe we overthink our system and play a little (lax) and sit back on our heels,” Smith said, via The Tennessean’s Paul Skrbina. “In the third (period Sunday) I think we just said eff it; let’s get after it a little bit. Read and react. Just play hockey, making hockey plays. That’s what we did.”

Could Hynes help them just play hockey? Maybe, maybe not.

In a fascinating discussion of Hynes’ Devils days, CJ Turtoro told On the Forecheck that Hynes’ system could also get too complicated.

Turtoro: One weakness for this particular team seemed to be complexity. As I mentioned, his system aims to create space, but that can create chaos that makes it difficult for players to support one another if they’re not on the same page, or not where they’re supposed to be …

The dream would be for Hynes to boost the Predators’ offense without taking away too much defense. Basically, the fantasy would parallel Craig Berube finding the right mix for the Blues after Mike Yeo leaned too defense-heavy. File that under easier said than done, of course.

Either way, the Predators may simply get a boost from Kyle Turris and others getting a clean slate.

Personally, I get the impression that Turris has paid for past sins. He struggled last season, injuries or not, but there’s compelling evidence that he shouldn’t have been a healthy scratch. Certainly not a frequent one.

Don’t underestimate the power of getting out of the doghouse.

Plenty of work to do

It’s kind of cruel that Hynes is going from one of the worst goalie duos to one of the league’s other terrible tandems.

If nothing else, it’s far more surprising to see Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros struggle that it was to see the Devils’ motley crue produce dismal results. So maybe Hynes can help them achieve more, particularly behind a far, far superior defense than the one he deployed in New Jersey?

Hynes and the Predators don’t have much of a margin for error, so this should be interesting to watch.

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.