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NHL Power Rankings: Stanley Cup contenders entering second half

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we take a look at where things stand around the league as the second half of the 2019-20 NHL season is set to begin.

The top Stanley Cup contenders, the teams making a big move to climb the standings, the teams still on the playoff bubble, and the teams that are already looking ahead to next season (and probably beyond).

Where does every team currently sit? To the rankings!

The Top Contenders

The teams that stand out above the rest as Stanley Cup Contenders right now…

1. Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin and Co. are in position to win another Presidents’ Trophy and have all the ingredients to win another Stanley Cup.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning. They are flat out dominating teams again. Two years ago the Capitals finally broke through after years of disappointment. Last year it was the Blues. Maybe this year it is the Lightning.

3. St. Louis Blues. Winning it all two years in a row is an extremely difficult task in the NHL (it has only happened three times in the past three decades) but this Blues team looks just as good as the championship version from a year ago, and is doing it without its best offensive player (Vladimir Tarasenko).

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. They simply look and play like the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017 and they still have some key players to get back in the lineup.

5. Boston Bruins. One of the best lines in the league and two outstanding goalies. Could use a tweak or two to their depth lines and a little more from Charlie McAvoy and some of their defensemen, but they will be there when it counts.

6. Colorado Avalanche. They are positioned for a run of dominance in the Western Conference for years to come.

Teams making a big move right now

Maybe not Stanley Cup contenders at the moment, but these are some of the hottest teams in the league …

7. Columbus Blue Jackets. Superb goaltending can mask a lot of flaws and carry a team to places no one expected it to be.

8. Florida Panthers. The highest scoring team in the league and one that could be a real sleeper in the Eastern Conference if they can just get a little more out of their goalies and defense.

9. Vancouver Canucks. One of five teams separated by just one point in the Pacific Division, but also probably the hottest with 11 wins in their past 14 games.

The middle ground and playoff bubble 

10. Dallas Stars. Ben Bishop is playing his way toward another top-three finish in the Vezina Trophy voting. He might even win it this season. He probably should.

11. New York Islanders. They had an amazing start with a 17-game point streak but have struggled ever since. They should still be a playoff team, and a good one, but they still need another scorer.

12. Chicago Blackhawks. Even with their great play recently they are still three points out and there is no guarantee they keep playing at this pace. I’d say it’s more likely they miss the playoffs than make it, but if they get in they are the type of team that could cause problems due to their top-line talent and goalie situation.

13. Edmonton Oilers. A few weeks ago they looked like they were falling out of it, but a 6-1-1 in their past eight has brought them right back into the Pacific Division race. It would be nice to see Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl play meaningful hockey games.

14. Philadelphia Flyers. Still the hardest team in the league to get any kind of a feel for. Not even sure they know what they have or what they are.

15. Carolina Hurricanes. This is a great young team with a bright future, but they slumped going into the break and losing Dougie Hamilton is going to be a big problem in the short-term.

16. Toronto Maple Leafs. How big of a hole did the start under Mike Babcock put them in? They are 16-7-3 since the coaching change — the sixth-best record in the league during that stretch — and one of the hottest teams in the league, and they are still four points out of a playoff spot at the moment. October and November games count, too. A lot more than people realize.

17. Calgary Flames. A big second half from Johnny Gaudreau could swing this mess of a division in their favor.

18. Vegas Golden Knights. I would expect this team to make a big push and rapidly climb the standings over the next month or two, especially if Marc-Andre Fleury gets on a roll (and he can). They are too good and too talented not to.

19. Arizona Coyotes. Taylor Hall has been just what they needed, but the wins haven’t been there very consistently. At least not yet.

20. Winnipeg Jets. They are hanging on as best they can given the state of the defense, but eventually the lack of talent on the blue line is going to be too much to overcome.

21. Nashville Predators. Their biggest advantage in the playoff race right now is the number of games they still have remaining. The key is going to be actually winning those games.

The playoffs are an almost impossible long shot

These teams are not totally out of it, but are close to it…

22. Montreal Canadiens. They played a little better going into the break, and could get some top players back in the lineup soon, but they have way too much ground to make up. Right now no team in a playoff position in the East is on pace for less than 100 points. Montreal needs 49 points in 32 games to reach that.

23. Buffalo Sabres. Another year of Jack Eichel‘s prime on the verge of being wasted with absolutely nothing to show for it. 

24. New York Rangers. On the plus side, Artemi Panarin is on pace for one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history.

25. Minnesota Wild. The big question here is how bold Bill Guerin gets at the trade deadline. Does he move players with term still on their contracts (Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin)?

Start planning for next season

26. San Jose Sharks. The single biggest disappointment in the NHL this season, and no other team is even close. Doug Wilson will get a chance to fix this, but he has his work cut out for him.

27. New Jersey Devils. Nico Hischier getting a chance to shine at the All-Star Game is probably the bright spot for the Devils this season.

28. Ottawa Senators. If you squint really hard and look really closely you can see a path for a successful rebuild here. Some good young players, no long-term commitments of any kind that creates some flexibility.

29. Anaheim Ducks. The lack of anything resembling an offense here is staggering.

30. Los Angeles Kings. Not even a bounce back season from Anze Kopitar could make a difference here.

31. Detroit Red Wings. Instead of planning for next season, planning for 2022 and beyond might be a more reasonable and realistic goal.

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: NHLers remember Kobe; Who will Bruins acquire?

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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.

• People in the hockey world remember Kobe Bryant. (NHL.com)

• WEEI breaks down potential trade candidates for the Boston Bruins. (WEEI)

• Will Nico Hischier be the Devils’ next captain? (All About the Jersey)

• The Hurricanes might use Erik Haula as a trade chip before the deadline. (Cardiac Cane)

• The Leafs could use a right-handed defenseman with some term left on his contract. (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Kyle Dubas might be looking for work if the Leafs don’t turn the season around. (Toronto Star)

Mike Hoffman started off his second half of the season on a good note. (Rat Trick)

• The women’s 3-on-3 game during All-Star weekend was a success. So, now what? (St. Louis Game-Time)

Jacob Markstrom needs to be really good for the Canucks in the second half of the season. (Canucks Army)

• Here’s three trade deadline options the Predators should explore. (On the Forecheck)

• Check out the top 10 moments from All-Star weekend. (NHL)

Alex Ovechkin reacted to the death of Kobe Bryant:

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.

Hockey’s young stars shine in NHL All-Star 3-on-3 tournament

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Young Laila Anderson delivered one of the most poignant moments of the weekend when she introduced the Blues’ four All-Stars. The players who stood out on the ice later weren’t all that much older.

Hockey’s youth was on grand display in the NHL All-Star 3-on-3 tournament on Saturday night, which was won by the Pacific Division. Whether it was Boston’s 23-year-old David Pastrnak earning MVP honors with six points or Vancouver’s 21-year-old Elias Pettersson scoring twice and trying a lacrosse goal, the fifth incarnation of 3 on 3 making up the All-Star Game was a showcase of the game’s present and future.

”It’s a young man’s game now in the NHL, and these guys, they’re superstars,” Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin said.

The night featured as many swear words during Green Day’s performance as saves by some of the goaltenders, who aren’t exactly in a good spot with more open ice than defense going on. Things tightened up and the final before the Pacific beat the Atlantic 5-4 and claim the $1 million prize.

”The second half, they turn it on and started to really play, which is good for the All-Star Game,” said Pastrnak, who gets a car for his four goals and two assists. ”We’re all having fun, but it comes to the end that we are all hockey players and it’s in our nature that everybody wants to win. Even if you’re playing and having fun, you still want to win.”

Along the way, there were plenty of opportunities for players to try things they ordinarily wouldn’t in a game that counts. Along with Pettersson, Chicago veteran Patrick Kane thought about celebrating his eighth NHL All-Star appearance by lifting the puck in lacrosse style before his hockey sense kicked in.

”I was thinking about it at that moment, and then I was kind of thinking that our team kind of needed a goal,” said Kane, who was cheered and booed in enemy territory. ”Then I gave away the puck anyway, so I should’ve just tried it.”

One of the most memorable parts of the night came when lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong swore multiple times during Green Day’s performance, words that could be heard in-arena but were bleeped on the TV broadcast.

”I heard a lot of F-bombs,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”I was like, is this OK?”

Before that, there were family friendly moments and reminders of the Blues’ Stanley Cup run last season. Anderson, the 11-year-old whose courageous battle with a rare immune disorder served as the team’s inspiration when winning its first Cup title, announced Blues All-Stars Ryan O'Reilly, Jordan Binnington, David Perron and Alex Pietrangelo.

”She was really good, too,” said Blues forward David Perron, who along with O’Reilly gave Anderson a hug when they were introduced. ”She had a good voice and was pretty loud and she had fun doing it, so it certainly was special for all four of us.”

St. Louis natives Jon Hamm and Jenna Fischer and Hockey Hall of Fame Blues alumni Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull spent time behind the benches as honorary captains. With less pressure and more pomp and circumstance, even usually intense Blues coach Craig Berube could relax.

”I didn’t do much coaching,” Berube said. ”I just stood there. It’s kind of nice, you just watch and watch the skill level and the talent out there and really just not have to engage too much. It’s stress-free.”

Blues fans who cheered Binnington’s success in the skills competition Friday didn’t get to see their players reach the 3-on-3 final because the Central Division lost the Western Conference semifinal 10-5 to the Pacific. Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk, who grew up in St. Louis, had two goals and two assists including the game-winner.

Pastrnak and Ottawa Senators forward Anthony Duclair each had a hat trick to help the Atlantic beat the Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference semifinal.

”I just wanted to show what I can do,” said Duclair, whose comeback season has been one of the best stories in the NHL thus far. ”When you’re playing with the best players in the world, you’re going to make some plays.”

Those plays came fast and furious and not without some drama. After some incidents during Oilers-Flames games this season left no love lost between the heated Alberta rivals, Draisaitl could be seen – perhaps jokingly – cursing at Tkachuk after setting him up for a goal.

”It was a nice play by him,” Draisaitl said with a laugh. ”We’re all here to have fun. We’re all here to have a good time and things like that, they happen in the game but this is not the time to be grumpy about anything.”

There’s plenty of time for that the rest of the NHL season.

Best moments from 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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After a fun skills competition on Friday, the Pacific Division beat the Atlantic 5-4 to win the 2020 NHL All-Star Game on Saturday. David Pastrnak won the MVP, while the Pacific split that $1 million. Those results don’t capture all of the best moments of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game, however.

Let’s consider some of the funny,  entertaining, and things that we’re more likely to remember than Pastrnak winning MVP (no offense, Pasta).

Laila Anderson introduces the Blues

Having Anderson introduce the Blues’ All-Star representatives was a delight. The Blues kind of owe her after Anderson was their “good luck charm,” right?

Blues fans … cheer for Patrick Kane?

Naturally, the St. Louis crowd was pulling for a Central Division team heavy on Blues. Of course, that meant they also occasionally felt the urge not to boo Patrick Kane of the rival Blackhawks. It made for a funny moment after a Kane goal:

Kane is no stranger to hearing boos at All-Star games, as Nashville fans let him have it (to John Scott’s delight) in 2016. After Saturday’s festivities, Kane explained why the boos don’t bother him that much.

“It’s all in good fun,” Kane said. “To be honest with you, sometimes you get booed, you kind of like it a little bit. It’s St. Louis and Chicago, it’s a huge rivalry. Not only in hockey, but pretty much every other sport they play against each other. I guess that’s only baseball, but… You know what? Had a lot of fun this weekend and I thought that was a pretty cool moment …”

Tkachuk to Draisaitl

“The Battle of Alberta” was put on hold (kind of?) being that Flames star-pest Matthew Tkachuk teamed up with Leon Draisaitl on the winning Pacific team.

The two engaged in an awkward exchange. Tkachuk sent a nice pass to Draisaitl in the opening game, leading to a goal. Draisaitl high-tailed it out of there, possibly while muttering a profanity at his frenemy. Afterward, Draisaitl claimed that he was just joking.

Regardless, nothing from All-Star weekend detracts from the billboard-worthy hype for the next “Battle of Alberta.” To refresh your memory, the Flames and Oilers will meet in what should be fascinating Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 games. Buckle up (and fasten your chinstrap/actually keep your mouthpiece in, Matthew).

Big weekend for Tomas Hertl

Casual hockey fans might know a lot more about Hertl. He brought laughs (and frightened chills) by wearing a Justin Bieber mask during the skills event.

Hertl followed up that style with substance. The Sharks forward scored four (often beautiful) goals in the first round, then managed the All-Star Game final’s clinching goal.

Overall, the 2020 NHL All-Star weekend provided plenty of fun, memorable moments, Tkachuk vs. Tkachuk, and a Mascot Showdown. Chalk that up as a success. If you want more information regarding the events, check the sections below.

Read up on the two first-round games:

Atlantic 9 – Metropolitan 5
Pacific 10 – Central 5

Celebrities, Skills, and more

Recent All-Star Game winners, MVPs

Winners:
2019: Metropolitan 10 – Central 5
2018: Pacific 5 – Atlantic 2
2017: Metropolitan 4 – Pacific 3
2016: Pacific 1 – Atlantic 0
2015: Team Toews 17 – Team Foligno 12
2012: Team Chara 12 – Team Alfredsson 9
2011: Team Lidstrom 11 – Team Staal 10
2009: East 12 – West 11 (OT)
2008: East 8 – West 7
2007: West 12 – East 9

MVPs:
2019: Sidney Crosby
2018: Brock Boeser (quite memorably)
2017: Wayne Simmonds
2016: John Scott (also very memorably)
2015: Ryan Johansen
2012: Marian Gaborik
2011: Patrick Sharp
2009: Alex Kovalev
2008: Eric Staal
2007: Daniel Briere

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.

All-Star MVP Pastrnak puts on a show for Atlantic Division

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ST. LOUIS — Bruce Cassidy is used to seeing what David Pastrnak did in the 2020 NHL All-Star Game every night. The Bruins forward put on a show on Saturday to earn MVP honors despite his Atlantic Division team losing the $1 million prize to the Pacific Division.

Pastrnak, who leads the NHL with 37 goals, scored three times in the Atlantic’s 9-5 semifinal win over the Metropolitan Division. He then added a goal and an assist in the final, but the Pacific Division finished on top 5-4.

“We had a good start. Obviously it was fun, but unfortunately came on the losing [end],” Pastrnak said afterward. “We wanted to win. Definitely a little bit painful.”

As is the thing with the three-on-three All-Star format, the two semifinals were a bit slow at points, but the final always sees the intensity pick up. The Atlantic stormed out to a 3-1 lead after the first half, but the Pacific roared back with four goals in the final 10 minutes.

“We all had fun but when it comes to the end we are all hockey players and it’s in our nature that everybody wants to win,” he said. “Even if you’re playing and having fun you still want to win.”

Along with MVP honors Pastrnak also gets to take home a 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid, which he said he’s not sure what he’ll with just yet.

Pastrnak now joins Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, and Bill Guerin as the only Bruins to take home All-Star Game MVP honors.

“It’s a huge honor, especially in an organization like the Bruins,” Pastrnak told Bruins TV. “Ray actually already texted me. It’s unbelievable.”

MORE ALL-STAR COVERAGE:
Pacific wins close All-Star Game final
Best moments from 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.