Semyon Varlamov

NHL Power Rankings
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NHL Power Rankings: Best 2019-20 free agent signings

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we shift our focus back to the summer of 2019 and the free agent signings that have ended up working out the best so far.

Free agency is always a risky proposition for teams because it forces them into a bidding war for players that have most likely played their best hockey for somebody else. Most long-term contracts signed during the free agency signing period have a tendency to end in trades or buyouts. Not even one full season in and there are already a handful of contracts that are off to slow starts (Sergei Bobrovsky in Florida, Matt Duchene in Nashville, Joe Pavelski in Dallas).

Some of them, however, have worked out as planned. Those are the contracts we are focussing on here today.

When it comes to identifying the “best” contracts at this point we are trying to take into account overall performance and the value of the contract. Sometimes it is a long-term deal that looks good, other times it is a short-term “prove it” deal where everyone ended up getting exactly what they wanted.

Which free agents make the cut?

To the rankings!

1. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. While most long-term free agent contracts end up failing to meet expectations, this is one that looks like it is going to work. Panarin is having one of the best individual seasons in the history of the Rangers’ franchise and is playing at an MVP level. Maybe he will not play at a superstar level for the entire seven-year term of the contract, but there is little reason to believe he will not be an impact player in New York for several years. One of the league’s best offensive players.

2. Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay Lightning. This was one of those “prove it” contracts. After having his previous deal with the Rangers bought out, Shattenkirk found himself back on the open market this past summer and landed in Tampa Bay on a one-year, $1.75 million contract. It has worked out tremendously for the Lightning. Shattenkirk has bounced back across the board with an improved offensive performance and dominant possession numbers. He may not be a No. 1 defender, but as a No. 2 or 3 on a contender he can still make an impact.

3. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks (traded to Vegas). After being a finalist for the Vezina Trophy a year ago, the Islanders allowed Lehner to walk and become an unrestricted free agent. He ended up getting a one-year, $5 million contract with the Blackhawks and was one of the biggest reasons they were able to at least somewhat stay in playoff contention instead of dropping down toward the bottom of the league. They ended up trading him to Vegas at the trade deadline, and even though that return was underwhelming it was still a strong signing.

4. Joonas Donskoi, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche entered the offseason armed with one of the league’s best young cores and the most salary cap space to play with. While they did not get the big ticket free agents, they did make some really smart moves. Donskoi’s four-year deal is right at the top of that list. He has been an outstanding depth addition and provided some much-needed secondary scoring.

5. Gustav Nyquist, Columbus Blue Jackets. He is not a superstar by any means, but Nyquist has given the Blue Jackets exactly what they thought he would: 15-20 goals, a 50-point pace, and all around solid top-six play. He has also been one of the few Blue Jackets players that has not missed significant time to injury this season. His $5.5 million salary cap hit over the next three seasons (after this one) is a more than fair price tag for what he provides.

6. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders. All things being equal he is probably a downgrade from what they lost in Lehner, but he has stayed healthy and been very good for the Islanders. The four-year contract seemed like a risk (and still is) but he has been productive so far.

7. Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche. Nichushkin’s 2018-19 season was the dullest individual season in NHL history. I do not mean that as a knock. It legitimately was given that he played 57 games and did not score a single goal or record a single penalty minute (the first time any player ever did that). That resulted in him signing a one-year, $850,000 contract with Colorado. In 65 games he already has 13 goals, 27 total points, and has been another outstanding depth addition.

8. Tyler Ennis, Ottawa Senators (traded to Edmonton). Another one-year bargain. Ennis was one of the few bright spots in Ottawa this season before he was flipped to the Oilers at the trade deadline. Before this season his production had fallen off a cliff as he bounced from Buffalo, to Minnesota, to Toronto, and then to Ottawa. This was a nice bounce-back year for him.

9. Noel Acciari, Florida Panthers. Before this season Acciari scored 18 goals in 180 career games. In his first 66 games with the Panthers he has already scored 20 goals. He makes just a little more than $1 million per season. Is this goal scoring output a short-term fluke? Maybe. Does that make me overrate him right now? Probably. But finding a 20-goal scorer for just over a million against the cap is a steal no matter how you look at it.

10. Tyler Myers, Vancouver Canucks. I hated this contract at the time and thought it signaled more bumbling from a directionless Vancouver front office that was just trying to sneak into the playoffs to save face. Maybe that’s what it still is. But once I get beyond my initial criticism I have to admit that Myers has been a pretty solid addition to the Canucks’ defense. Maybe it won’t look that way in two or three years, but for now he has helped.

Honorable mentions

  • Brandon Tanev, Pittsburgh Penguins. Like Myers, I hated the length of this deal at the time, but he has been a great addition to their bottom-six and helped defensively.
  • Brett Connolly, Florida Panthers. The Bobrovsky contract might not work, but the additions of Acciari and Connolly were solid moves to add offense.
  • Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild. My biggest complaint here is Zuccarello added another player on the wrong side of 30 to a team that already has a lot of them making big money. Overall, though, he has been good.
  • Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs. By no means is he a top player anymore, but as a veteran third-or fourth-line center he is great for that salary cap hit.

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.

The Buzzer: Saturday of surprises, including a Martin Jones shutout

Martin Jones shutout The Buzzer 3 stars highlights
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Three Stars

1. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

Saturday ended up being an oasis in the desert for struggling California goalies. Both Jones and Jonathan Quick earned their first wins of 2020.

Jones managed his win most impressively, pitching a 39-save shutout, his first goose egg of the season. Minnesota fired quantity over quality at Jones, but it was quite the volume nonetheless. This marks quite the turnaround, as Jones allowed 13 goals over his last three appearances.

Despite this performance, Martin Jones sits under 90 percent on the season with an .894 save percentage. Yes, the Sharks defense can be porous, but Jones’ freefall remains a huge disappointment for a franchise that carried lofty aspirations.

2. Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings

Consider this a dual prize for Toffoli and Quick, who helped the Kings steal the Stadium Series skirmish from Colorado.

Toffoli scored all three of the Kings’ goals, including the late game-winner and an empty-netter. The latter tally pushed Toffoli to the first hat trick in an outdoor game. Toffoli already ranked as one of the bigger trade target fish in a shallow pond, but a hot streak could puff him up, and he now has four goals in his last two contests.

Quick faced the busier evening overall, though, and was almost perfect. He made 32 out of 33 saves, only allowing a goal when he made the wrong choice to grab his stick during a scrambly sequence for L.A.

3. Kyle Turris, Nashville Predators

If people can resist thinking of Turris as a $6M player — or at least maybe contain it to the occasional reference — they might be heartened by his OK play. It’s easier after outputs like Saturday when Turris scored a goal and two assists as Nashville gutted out a win against St. Louis. Turris has more goals (8 to 7) and points (27 to 23) than last season. It’s easy to forget that he was limited to 55 games played in 2018-19, but either way, it’s reasonable to see that he exceeded those totals in 50 games this season.

Still, there’s novelty to choosing Turris over, say, Patrick Kane (who also scored a goal and two assists). Other honorable mentions include Semyon Varlamov (42 saves, but in a 1-0 loss) and Antti Raanta (36 of 37 saves, kept Alex Ovechkin snakebitten).

Speaking of Ovechkin, his next shot at 700 goals comes on Monday. NBCSN will carry that game against the Golden Knights, with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET.

Highlights of the Night

Tyler Seguin won it for Dallas in overtime with a mind-melter:

Brad Marchand just going to keep doing this, isn’t he?

Factoids

  • The Flames are becoming masters of bad starts. They’ve allowed a goal on the first shot they faced nine times this season, the most of any team in the NHL. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Fear the Fin’s Sheng Peng points out that Martin Jones has been a menace to Minnesota. Jones generated three of his four shutouts from the past to seasons against the Wild.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury became the 18th goalie to reach 60 career shutouts. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Auston Matthews reached 42 goals and 71 points on Saturday. Matthews became the first Leaf to score 70+ points by 59 games played since Mats Sundin, who got there in 57 back in 1996-97. (NHL PR)
  • The Lightning set a new franchise record with their longest home winning streak at 11 games and counting. (NHL PR)

Scores

BOS 4 – DET 1
NSH 4 – STL 3
TBL 5 – PHI 3
EDM 4 – FLA 1
SJS 2 – MIN 0
DAL 4 – MTL 3 (OT)
TOR 4 – OTT 2
LAK 3 – COL 1
CHI 8 – CGY 4
ARI 3 – WSH 1
VGK 1 – NYI 0

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 on NBCSN: Islanders need Varlamov to get back on track

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Semyon Varlamov experiment got off to a relatively good start this year. After the Islanders handed him a four-year, $20 million deal in the summer, they managed to get a lot of him in the first half of the season. Things have cooled off considerably though.

From October through the end of December, the Islanders were playing their signature stingy brand of hockey. Varlamov was playing well, the Islanders were winning games and everything was going well. If there were any doubts about their ability to make the playoffs, again, they were being put to bed.

Varlamov had a 14-3-3 record with a 2.43 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage through Dec. 31. Everything is good, right? Sort of.

The new year hasn’t been as kind to the veteran netminder.

Varlamov has gone 2-6-1 since the start of the new year. For a good chunk of this season, head coach Barry Trotz had decided to split starts between his two goalies. Varlamov and Thomas Greiss were rotating in the Isles crease at times. The Russian also went through long stretches where he was the starting netminder.

Lately, that hasn’t been the case. Before starting two of the last three contests, Varlamov was on the bench for three consecutive games, and it’s easy to see why. He has four regulation losses in his last five outings and he has one win in his last six games.

[NHL on NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday at 7 p.m. ET]

In fairness to him, he had a stronger showing in Saturday’s loss to Tampa Bay, but they need him to build on that performance.

According to the splitting schedule, Greiss would be between the pipes tonight against Washington. Whether or not that ends up happing is irrelevant because the Isles need points in the standings. Heading into tonight’s game against their division rival, they’re currently in the first Wild Card spot in the East. They do have two games in hand on the Hurricanes and Flyers, but both teams are just one point behind them.

Tonight and tomorrow’s clashes against the Capitals and Flyers are the first of three back-to-back games remaining on the schedule, but they’re pretty much playing a game every other day. Their schedule is going to be hectic. So splitting games might be the wisest decision, but they’ll have to settle on a goalie heading into the playoffs (if they make it there).

Rolling with Greiss isn’t a huge issue, but it would be silly to have to leave your $20-million goalie on the bench if you make the playoffs.

There’s no other way to spin it, Trotz and his team need Varlamov to get back to playing like he did in the first half of the season or it might be a short playoff run or no playoff run at all. Of course, the team in front of the goalies can be tighter and that would help them a lot, too.

The Islanders have been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL since the start of last season. Can they keep that going or will they continue to fade? Stay tuned.

Joe Beninati will handle play-by-play duties alongside analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May at Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. Kathryn Tappen will host studio coverage with Anson Carter and Ben Lovejoy.

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.

How concerning is Islanders’ recent play?

Islanders
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It’s been a tale of two very different seasons so far for the New York Islanders.

It began with them storming out of the gate with a 16-3-2 record in their first 21 games. That start included a 17-game point streak where their only losses were a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins — a game where they surrendered a three-goal third period lead — and a 2-1 overtime loss to the Sharks. They were less than 30 minutes and maybe two or three shots away from matching the longest winning streak in NHL history.

Since then? It’s been a very different story. In the 27 games that have followed the Islanders have been the definition of average when it comes to their results. Their 12-12-3 record during that stretch gives them a points percentage of exactly .500, while they have gone from what looked to be a slam dunk playoff team with home ice in round 1, to one that is just a single point clear of a wild card spot (Columbus is right on their tails, while they are six points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division) and only three points clear of the non-playoff teams.

Depending on what happens on Tuesday in their game against the New York Rangers, combined with the results in Philadelphia (against Pittsburgh at 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Carolina (against a slumping Winnipeg Jets team), they could either maintain their current cushion, or see it shrink to as little as one point.

On one hand, every team is going to slump at some point during an 82-game season. But this is starting to become more than just a “slump.” We’re now at 27 games (more than 32 percent of the season) where they have struggled. They’ve been average to below average more than they’ve been successful at this point.

Digging down to a more recent sampling of games, the Islanders have won just five of their past 15 games with a few ugly losses in the middle of that. That includes two to the Rangers team they play on Tuesday, and a brutal loss over the weekend against Washington where they turned a 4-1 third period lead into a 6-4 defeat. This is currently the worst 15-game stretch they have had in a year-and-a-half under Barry Trotz, and their worst since they melted down during the stretch run of the 2017-18 season.

The Islanders are mostly the same team they were a year ago, not only in terms of the roster, but also the way they play. They do not score a lot of goals, they give up a ton of shots and regularly get outshot, but still remain one of the top goal prevention teams in the league overall. Lately, that has started to change.

In the 27 games since their point streak ended they have dropped down to 10th in the league in goals against per 60 minutes in all situations, and 14th in goals against per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play. Over the past 15 games, they are down to 13th and 24th respectively. It’s tough for any team to win giving up that many goals. It’s next to impossible for a team as offensively starved as the Islanders.

There are two things that should be a cause for concern here.

The first one is they miss Adam Pelech on defense. He may not be a household name around the league, but he is one of their best defensive players and has not played since Dec. 31. While their struggles started before that, he’s a difficult player to replace.

The second is that a lot of the Islanders’ success the past year-and-a-half has been goaltending driven. A year ago it was the duo of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. Lehner played at a Vezina Trophy level, and the perpetually underrated Greiss was a perfect complement in a platoon role. Every team that gets bombarded on the shot chart and still finds ways to prevent goals and wins thinks they’ve found the secret to something. But shot volume still matters, and if you’re giving up a lot of shots, it stands to reason that quality chances (and goals) will eventually follow. In the end, it still really comes down to elite goaltending.

Early this season the duo of Semyon Varlamov and Greiss was still giving them that, and the wins were still there.

Here’s the problem: They haven’t necessarily been bad lately. In the 27 game stretch that duo has a .915 save percentage which is not only FAR above the league average, it is 8th best in the league during that stretch. Of the top-14 teams in save percentage during that stretch, they are the only team that does not have a points percentage of at least .540.

Even during the past 15 games they are still getting exactly league average goaltending (.904). And they can’t win.

It’s not that the goaltenders have necessarily struggled lately, it’s that the Islanders’ success is built around them being great. When they are anything less than great — even if they are still very good — the team struggles. Badly.

Even before this recent regression they needed another scorer or two. With Pelech sidelined they might need another defensemen, too. But the biggest thing they need is for them to give their goaltenders more support and not be completely dependent on them.

 

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.

The Buzzer: Varlamov, Islanders get shutout; McDavid dazzles

Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders
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Three Stars

1) Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers captain made you forget about his three-assist performance with a spectacular goal of his own in the third period of Edmonton’s 6-4 win against Toronto. McDavid danced around Morgan Rielly and then fooled Michael Hutchinson with a nifty deke. It is always something special to see one of the NHL’s brightest stars finish a sequence by utilizing his creativity and high-end skill.

2) Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

The Islanders needed a win at home after dropping four straight games at Nassau Coliseum. They relied on stellar goaltending and commitment to defense to shut down the high-flying Avalanche and pick up a 1-0 win. Varlamov made 32 saves, including 12 in the third period in his first game against his former team since signing a four-year deal with New York this summer. It was only the second time Colorado was shut out this season.

3) Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

Blake Wheeler did the right thing by dishing the puck to Ehlers on a shorthanded 2-on-0 opportunity. Ehlers created a neutral zone turnover due to an active stick, then the Jets captain rewarded him for the extra effort. The Danish winger also added an assist in the Jets’ 3-2 victory over the Canadiens.

Highlights of the Night

McDavid is in a world of his own

Carey Price denies Kyle Connor’s point-blank attempt

Blooper of the Night

Derick Brassard made sure Anders Lee didn’t lose his mouthguard during his celebration

Stats of the Night

NHL Scores

Edmonton Oilers 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 4

Winnipeg Jets 3, Montreal Canadiens 2

New York Islanders 1, Colorado Avalanche 0

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Los Angeles Kings 2

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.