PHT Power Rankings

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites entering Stanley Cup Final

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Now that we are through the first three rounds of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs the race for the Conn Smythe Trophy is really starting to sort itself out.

It is down to just two teams and both the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues have several worthy contenders that have stood out as potential postseason MVPs.

Some of them have been dominant from the start, while others have started to make their presence known over the past couple of weeks.

It is time once again to check in on the top contenders in the PHT Power Rankings.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. It is not a stretch to suggest that this is the best hockey Rask has ever played in the NHL. After allowing just five goals in the Bruins’ four game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, he now has a .942 save percentage in the playoffs and is helping to make what was an already great team a downright dominant team. He is one of just six goalies in NHL history to have a save percentage of .940 or better through their first 17 games in a single postseason, joining a list that includes only Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2002-03), Jonathan Quick (2011-12), Olaf Kolzig (1997-98), Henrik Lundqvist (2013-14) and … Rask himself once before (2013).

2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Simply one of the most impactful skaters in the NHL. Love him or hate him, he is a total force on the ice in all three zones and he is putting together another tremendous postseason performance for the Bruins. His 18 points are second only to San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture (he finished the playoffs with 20 points in 20 games; Marchand’s per-game average is still higher) and he has already recorded six multi-point games (tied with Tomas Hertl for the most). That includes three games with at least three points, also tops in the league.

3. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. Schwartz has followed up what was one of the worst regular season performances of his career with a postseason that could be worthy of the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Blues end up winning the Stanley Cup. After scoring just 11 goals in 69 regular season games, Schwartz enters the Cup Final having already eclipsed that mark (12 goals) in the Blues’ first 19 playoff games. That includes a league-leading 10 even-strength goals, two game-winning goals, and two hat tricks. Yes, a lot of that goal-scoring spike is due to a 22 percent shooting percentage that certainly will not continue forever, but his underlying numbers are outstanding across the board. When he is on the ice the Blues are attempting more than 57 percent of the total shot attempts and generating more than 55 percent of the scoring chances. He is playing extremely well and when combined with a positive change in his shooting luck it has produced a huge postseason.

4. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues. After a somewhat slow start to the playoffs, at least as it related to his point production, Tarasenko went on a tear at the absolute perfect time by recording at least one point in all six games of the Western Conference Final, finishing the series with eight total points, including three goals. He remains one of the most productive postseason goal-scorers in league history and is currently in the top-25 all-time in goals per game (among players with at least 40 postseason games). Is it a case of recency bias to have him so high at this point? Maybe, but that is how the Conn Smythe voting tends to go. He is the Blues’ best player and when he gets on a roll he can be nearly impossible to stop. Right now he is on a roll.

5. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. It has been business as usual for Bergeron this postseason as he plays big minutes, dominates possession, shuts down other team’s top scorers, and chips in some offense of his own. Maybe the only surprise from him in the playoffs is that six of his eight goals have come on the power play. Before this season he had scored just seven power play goals in 112 postseason games.

6. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues. His overall numbers for the playoffs are not great, and are definitely lower than what he did during the regular season, but that does not mean he has not played extremely well at times. Like Tarasenko, he is doing so at just the right time to get noticed in the Conn Smythe race. He is 6-2 with a .925 save percentage in his past eight starts and has allowed just five goals in the four knockout games he has played (three games where the Blues could eliminate a team; one game where the Blues faced elimination).

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better special teams?
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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 Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites through Round 2

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With the Conference Finals underway it is time to take another look at the Conn Smythe race for the MVP of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The San Jose Sharks have probably been the team still standing that has had the most dominant individual performances, but the front-runner after the first two rounds just might be one of the NHL’s most hated players … unless he happens to play for your team.

Let’s take a look at the rankings.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. This postseason has given us the complete Brad Marchand experience. We have had the troll and pest antics (stepping on a stick blade and trying to break it; the interviews after Game 6 against Columbus) and the occasional dirty play (punching Scott Harrington in the back of the head then not regretting it). We have also had him show he is one of the best players in the NHL as demonstrated by the fact he enters the weekend leading the postseason in scoring 15 points in 14 games. His nine primary assists (all situations) are the most in the NHL, he has a game-winning goal, and is playing 20 minutes per night as a forward and one of Boston’s go-to players in every situation. You may not like the way he plays, but you can’t deny the fact he is one of best in the league and right now is very much in the running for the Conn Smythe.

2. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks. A breakout regular season followed by what has been, to this point, a dominant postseason. Hertl enters the Western Conference Final tied for the league lead with nine goals this postseason, including four on the power play, two game-winners, and a shorthanded goal (which was also a game-winner to keep their season alive in Round 1).

3. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks. It is a neck-and-neck race for the Sharks with Hertl and Couture carrying the load offensively. Couture has been as consistent a playoff performer as there is in the league over the past four years and has had a couple of massive games for the Sharks this postseason, including his Game 3 hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2.

4. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. Slavin is getting dangerously close to being that player that gets called underrated so many times that he can no longer be considered underrated. So let’s just stop calling him that and start calling him what he is: A legit top-pairing defender and a Conn Smythe candidate for the Hurricanes. He may not score a ton of goals, but the way he controls the game and shuts opposing forwards down puts him on a top level among the league’s defenders. He has always done that, and these playoffs are finally giving him a spotlight to shine in.

5. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks. A finalist for the Norris Trophy and a contender for the Conn Smythe all in the same season. The only thing that might hurt his chances is that he has the two forwards listed ahead of him here on his team.

6. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. After scoring just 11 goals during the regular season Schwartz has gone on a tear in the playoffs with eight goals in the Blues’ first 13 games. Nobody else on the team has more than five. Even more impressive is that seven of his goals have come at even-strength (most in the playoffs) and he also has two-game winners.

7. Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes. I think if you asked for a Conn Smythe forward from the Hurricanes the first instinct from most people would be to say Sebastian Aho, and he has certainly been outstanding. But Jordan Staal deserves some recognition for the job he has done this postseason not only scoring some absolutely massive goals for the Hurricanes, but also for his defensive play and ability to help them dominate the possession game. His contract and lack of gaudy offensive numbers for a No. 2 overall pick probably knocks him down a few pegs in the eyes of fans, but he is one heck of a two-way player.

8. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues. The wild thing about the Blues is they are an outstanding team. They have been playing like a Stanley Cup team for months now and have more than earned their spot in the Western Conference Final. But there isn’t really a truly dominant individual performance on this team right now. It’s just a solid, top-to-bottom team that is getting contributions from everyone. One performance that has stood out has been Pietrangelo’s on the blue line. He is providing offense, playing big minutes, and leading what has been a great defensive team all season.

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 Power Rankings: Trade deadline acquisitions making postseason impact

Every year around the NHL trade deadline there is always that talk about how “sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”

It is usually mentioned as a justification for a team standing pat at the deadline and not adding a player for the stretch run or the postseason, and it only gets driven home even further when a team that did make a big trade inevitably loses before the Stanley Cup Final.

But you do not need to actually win the Stanley Cup for a postseason run to be a successful one or for a trade deadline deal to be worth it.

Sometimes making a big trade is the right move and sometimes does work. There have been quite a few examples this season and those are the subject of this week’s PHT Power Rankings: The trade deadline acquisitions that have made the biggest impact in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Let’s go to the rankings!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets. This was probably the most significant deadline deal due to the combination of Duchene being one of the top players available, and because Columbus wasn’t even a lock to make the postseason when it was completed. It was bold. It was a risk. It was the type of move team’s in this position do not usually make. After a slow start with his new team at the end of the regular season, Duchene has proven to be everything the Blue Jackets hoped he would be in the playoffs with 10 points in his first nine games, including a pair of game-winning goals. He is one of the many free agents on this Blue Jackets roster so his long-term future with the team remains very much in doubt (this summer will probably be his last chance to cash in with a big contract in free agency) but he is a big reason they have experienced life beyond Round 1 of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

2. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. Yeah, I know, they lost in the first round and that is going to make it easy to hold this up as an example of a big trade at the deadline not working out but that entire mindset is completely misguided and totally shortsighted. First, the Golden Knights didn’t lose because of Stone or what they gave up to get him. They lost because of a controversial penalty call and a penalty killing unit that collapsed on itself over a five-minute stretch late in the third period of Game 7. Stone was so good and so dominant in their Round 1 series against the San Jose Sharks that he is still tied for the second most total points and the third most goals in this year’s playoffs. He was great for the Golden Knights, is one of the best two-way wingers in the NHL, and the team has him signed long-term. If it had not been for the trade to send him to Vegas it is entirely possible the Golden Knights never would have even made it to Game 7 and been in a position to win. The trade worked, and it will continue to work for the next several years.

3. Nino Niederreiter, Carolina Hurricanes. Since this trade happened in January, more than a month before the trade deadline, it is probably stretching it to call this a “deadline” deal, but it is close enough and it was still a significant mid-season deal that helped alter the playoff landscape in the NHL. Not only because it gave the Hurricanes another bona-fide top-six winger (and one with some much-needed finishing ability around the net) to help power their second half surge, but also because it took him away from Minnesota and helped complete their second half fall. Niederreiter hasn’t made a huge impact in the box score so far in the playoffs (one goal, four assists) but he is one of the team’s best possession-driving players, was amazing in the regular season to help the Hurricanes secure their playoff spot, and is signed long-term to be a significant part of the team’s core beyond this season. Huge trade at the right time. The Hurricanes were one of the best teams in the NHL after January 1 and the addition of Niederreiter was a significant part of that.

4. Mats Zuccarello, Dallas Stars. If the Stars were going to do anything meaningful this season it was imperative that they find some secondary scoring to complement their top trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. The addition of Zuccarello at the trade deadline was supposed to do exactly that, and in his first game with the team the Stars got a taste of what he could add to their lineup with a huge performance — to lose him for most of the remaining regular season schedule due to injury. He returned just in time for the playoffs and has made a massive impact on the Stars’ second line with 10 points in the team’s first 12 playoff games. He has been exactly what they needed, and along with the emergence of Roope Hintz has given the Stars enough offense after their top line to give themselves a chance to make a deep playoff run.

[Related: Zuccarello is perfect complement for Stars’ top line]

5. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins. Another significant Minnesota trade where the Wild probably sold low on a winger that had been one of their most productive players in recent years. Coyle struggled immediately after arriving in Boston but has been a huge difference-maker so far in the playoffs, having already scored five goals for the Bruins. That includes two goals in Game 1 of their Round 2 series against the Blue Jackets where he tied the game late in the third period and then won it in overtime. Right now those two goals are why the Bruins are playing for the chance to move on to the Eastern Conference Final on Monday night instead of facing elimination.

6. Gustav Nyquist, San Jose Sharks. Nyquist hasn’t yet made a huge impact for the Sharks, but he’s been very good and an excellent addition to a roster that is already loaded. He finished the regular season strong and even though he has just one goal and four assists in the playoffs, he has still played well and been a threat to score … he just hasn’t consistently finished yet. Given that the Sharks only had to give up a second-and third-round pick to get him it was a worthwhile addition and one that still has the potential to pay off even more.

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 Power Rankings: Most surprising scorers in 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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You never know which player is going to emerge in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a difference-maker.

It is not always the superstars.

While you certainly need your best players to shine if you are going to be the team lifting the Stanley Cup, it is not always going to about them when it comes to reaching that point. Sometimes they get shut down as the stars on either side cancel each other out in a best-of-seven series. When that happens it is going to come down to which team’s depth players can make an impact and get hot for a few weeks.

Sometimes you need someone else to emerge as a surprising source of offense.

That is the direction we are headed in this week’s PHT Power Rankings as we look at some of the most surprising scorers in this postseason.

Are some of these runs unsustainable and the result of a short-term spike in shooting percentage? You bet they are! And there is nothing wrong with that, because every team that ends up winning a championship has one or two of these players get hot at the right time. Luck? Clutch? Call it whatever you want, but it is a necessary ingredient to win.

Also just want to point this out at the beginning: The only team to not have a player mentioned in this week’s Power Rankings is the Columbus Blue Jackets. That is not meant to be a slight or an omission, it is just that they do not really have anyone at this point that qualifies as a “surprise” point producer. The players driving their offense right now are the exact players you expect to be driving it: Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Zach Werenski. Their stars are playing like stars. So far, they really have not needed a depth player to shine.

With that said, let’s go on to the rankings!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Warren Foegele, Carolina Hurricanes. In his first 71 games during the regular season Foegele scored just seven goals for the Hurricanes. That’s it. Seven. In the 15 games that have followed (six regular season games, nine playoff games) he has scored eight goals, including five in the playoffs to lead the team. He also leads all NHL players this postseason with five even-strength goals. He continued his late-season surge on Sunday when he scored the game-tying goal early in the third period of the Hurricanes’ 2-1 come-from-behind win and was a constant source of offense in their Round 1 upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. The Hurricanes have been hammered by injuries in these playoffs but just keep finding ways to win, and the emergence of Foegele (even if it is the result of a 33 percent shooting percentage right now) is a big reason why.

2. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins. Prior to his trade to Boston at the deadline, Coyle was having a really down year for the Minnesota Wild and things didn’t get much better for him after being sent to the Bruins. In his first 21 games with his new team he managed just two goals and was looking to be a bit of a disappointment as a deadline acquisition. Not anymore. Late season additions like Coyle are usually measured by what they do in the postseason, and through the first two games of Round 2 he is leading the team in goals (five) and is second in total points (seven). Some of those goals have been massive ones, including the overtime winner in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets after tying the game late in regulation, and an early goal in Game 2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs that set the tone for them to even that series.

3. Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars. When you play the Stars you know you are going to have to shut down their top trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. And as expected, all three have been great so far in the playoffs. What has made the Stars such a dangerous team now is the emergence of a second scoring line that has helped balance their lineup and take some of the pressure off of their top trio. It is there that we find Hintz, a 22-year-old rookie, that has caught fire over the past five games and enters Game 3 of their series against the St. Louis Blues just one point back of Benn for the team lead in scoring with seven points. He and Mats Zuccarello have been tremendous together and were dominant in the Stars’ Game 2 win in St. Louis.

4. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. They may not be a lot of household names, but the Hurricanes’ defense is one of the best units in the NHL from top to bottom. They are all young, they are all signed long-term, and they are all really good when it comes to limiting shots and chances against their goalies. Slavin is one of the best all-around players out of that group, but his best asset has probably always been his ability to shut teams down. He is still helping to do that in the playoffs, but has also been a surprising point producer having already recorded 10 assists (tops in the NHL this postseason) in his first nine games. Seven of those assists have come during 5-on-5 play, an area where no other player in the NHL has more than five this postseason.

5. Matt Nieto, Colorado Avalanche. Nieto scored just four goals in 64 regular season games for the Avalanche. He already has three goals (to go with two assists) in seven postseason games. What is even more astonishing is that two of those goals this postseason are shorthanded goals. For his career, he had just four shorthanded goals (total) in 402 regular season games. He also scored a huge goal on Sunday night to help the Avalanche even their series with the San Jose Sharks.

6. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks. A sixth-round pick by the Sharks in 2014, Labanc has shown steady improvement all three years he has been in the NHL and has really made an impact in the playoffs. He had four points as part of their insane Game 7 rally against the Vegas Golden Knights, and then scored an absolute beauty of a goal in Game 1 against the Avalanche to help the Sharks jump out to an early season lead.

7. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. Schwartz has been a really good player in St. Louis for a few years now, and you can usually pencil him in for 25 goals and 50 points at the start of every season and he won’t let you down. This season was the exception, mainly due to the fact he was hammered by a 6 percent shooting percentage that was significantly below his career average. That is how he makes the cut as a “surprising” scorer this postseason. Eventually, though, regression to the mean kicks in and some of those bounces he wasn’t getting during the regular season will start going his way. That has happened in the playoffs where he has already scored five goals for the Blues (after scoring just 11 in 69 regular season games). That includes a stretch where he scored four consecutive Blues goals to finish off the Winnipeg Jets in Round 1, scoring a late-game-winning goal in Game 5, and then scoring all three goals in their series-clinching Game 6 win.

8. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. The only reason he is eighth is because, well, he has traditionally been a really good top-six winger. He is not some young player that came out of nowhere with a hot streak, or a role player that just happened to go on a goal-scoring run at the right time. But like Schwartz in St. Louis, he did have a bit of a down regular season for the Islanders so that makes his resurgence here in the postseason at least a little bit of a surprise. So far he has at least one point in five of the Islanders’ first six games, and scored at least one goal in each of their four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, with all of those goals being game-changers.

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 Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1

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The first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was filled with upsets, crazy comebacks, and incredible individual performances. Now that it is in the books and eight teams still have their Stanley Cup dreams alive, our focus in the PHT Power Rankings this week shifts to taking a look at the early favorites for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have combined to win the award in each of the past three seasons, but with both of their teams eliminated in Round 1 there will be a changing of the guard this year and some new names at the top of the list.

Let’s take a look at who some of them are.

To the rankings!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. One of the league’s best players and perhaps the most valuable asset in the NHL right now. MacKinnon was a force in the Avalanche’s Round 1 upset win over the Calgary Flames, finishing with eight points in five games, playing more than 23 minutes per night (more than any other player on the team other than defender Tyson Barrie) and looking as unstoppable as any other player in the league. From start to finish he was the most impressive player in Round 1 on any team.

2. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks. Hertl scored six goals in the Sharks’ seven-game series win over the Vegas Golden Knights, including at least one in each of the final three games as they erased a 3-1 series deficit. They were huge goals, too. After scoring two goals in the Sharks’ 5-2 Game 5 win, his shorthanded double overtime goal in Game 6 sent the series to a seventh game where he would record two points as part of that insane third period rally. He might be the single biggest reason the Sharks are still standing.

3. Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars. HIs Round 1 performance is just one more reason for hockey fans in Nashville to hate him as he helped knock out the Central Division champs in six games. Dallas’ big-four of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Radulov were all great in the series, but Radulov was a special kind of dominant. He scored four goals in the series and looked like he was a threat to break the game wide open every single time he was on the ice. He not only helped carry the offense, the Stars only surrendered one goal in his 94 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time (they scored eight).

4. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders. He was a big reason the New York Islanders exceeded all expectations during the regular season, and he was a big reason they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in four straight games. He allowed just six goals against one of the league’s most dynamic offensive teams and finished the series with a .956 save percentage, tops in the playoffs so far.

5. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes’ defense is by far the strength of their team, and they did a tremendous job in Round 1 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Their best overall performer was Slavin, as he not only finished with nine points (highest on the team) but was also a crucial part of the Hurricanes’ ability to shut down the Capitals offense at even-strength. The Hurricanes were the better team for most of the series during 5-on-5 play, and there was probably no one player that did more to drive that defensively than Slavin. Every member of the Hurricanes’ defense is good, and he is starting to emerge as one of their best.

6. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Marchand has been one of the NHL’s most impactful players for about four years now and he continued that in Round 1 for the Bruins. He had three multi-point games in their latest postseason win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, including a pair of three-point games.

7. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets. This is exactly what you hope to get from a big trade deadline acquisition. Duchene was a monster for the Blue Jackets in their stunning four-game sweep over the Tampa Bay Lightning, finishing with seven points while averaging just 15 minutes of ice-time per game. He was at his best in Game 2 of the series when he finished with four points, helping to turn the Lightning into “a five-alarm fire.”

8. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. After what was probably the worst regular season performance of his career, Schwartz came through at just the right time for the Blues to help ruin the Winnipeg Jets’ season. He scored four consecutive goals for the Blues by not only capping off their stunning Game 5 rally with a game-winning goal with 15 seconds to play, but then recording a hat trick in their 3-2 series-clinching win in Game 6.

9. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. In his first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance during the 2016-17 season Eberle failed to score a goal in any of his 13 games. He pulled a complete 180 in Round 1, scoring in all four of the Islanders’ wins over the Penguins. Each one of them proved to be a game-changer.

10. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars. He is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the third time in his career and showed why in the Stars’ Round 1 win with a sensational performance against the Predators. With his .945 save percentage in the six games, he is now up to a .930 save percentage 42 career postseason games.

ROUND 2 PREVIEWS:
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins
Hurricanes vs. Islanders
Blues vs. Stars
Avalanche vs. Sharks

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.