McDavid on NHL resuming play: ‘A fair season is a full season’

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Connor McDavid would prefer if the NHL played out the rest of the 2019-20 schedule once the coronavirus pandemic has passed and the league resumes play. Going straight into the playoffs after all this time off? Not ideal, the Oilers captain said on a Friday video conference with reporters.

“I think [the standings] look pretty good right now,” said McDavid of his second-place Oilers. “But you want a fair season. And a fair season is a full season. If we can do that, then that’s what we’d obviously prefer. I don’t think we can just step into playoffs, Game 1, Calgary comes to Edmonton, and guys are just running around killing each other and haven’t played a game in two months. It’ll end up the [AHL] Stockton Heat versus the Bakersfield Condors if that’s the case. We want to keep guys healthy and we want to make sure everyone’s up and ready to play some playoff hockey.”

Flames captain Mark Giordano would also prefer to see a full 82-game schedule played out, but a prolonged pause and an emphasis on not affecting the 2020-21 season would be a factor.

“I’ve thought a lot about this,” said Giordano, whose Flames are in third place in the Pacific Division, four points behind the Oilers. In a perfect world, you want to play a full regular season and whoever gets in, gets in. But I don’t think realistically we’re going to have that time.”

The Flames and Oilers have a bit of a cushion in their divisional playoff race, but what about a team like the Coyotes, who are four points out a wild card spot and five points behind Calgary in the division?

“I think it’s only fair to start where we left off here,” said Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. “It would be good for the playoffs too, to get those games going again and get into a playoff spot and be ready for a really good playoffs. I think that would benefit all of us.”

One playoff format idea that’s been floated is using points percentage and including a few more than the usual 16 teams. Giordano isn’t a fan of the points percentage idea, but is keen on 12 teams in each conference making the postseason with Round 1 byes for top teams.

One thing Giordano and his fellow Pacific Division captains agreed on was that should a 2020 postseason be played, the time off would ensure a quality tournament.

“If we can ever get back to playing, it’s going to be one of the best playoffs ever,” said Giordano. “You’re going to be playing the best version of every team.”

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

MORE:
Players doing what they can to stay in shape during NHL hiatus
Crosby, Ovechkin fine if NHL chooses to go right to playoffs

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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.

A best on best mythical tournament: 23-and-under team

Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres prepares for a faceoff during an NHL game against Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next three Thursdays.

The first team to enter the competition will be a roster comprised of players 23 years of age or younger. Think a Team North America in 2020. In recent years, younger players have made an instant impact at the NHL level and this team is filled with already established superstars.

Line Combinations

First line: Sebastian Aho – Connor McDavid – David Pastrnak

Thoughts: Leon Draisaitl has benefitted greatly from playing alongside McDavid this season and the addition of two dynamic goal scorers (Aho, Pastrnak) should produce an explosive top line. Aho’s ability to light the lamp and create plays should be a perfect fit to round out the group.

Second line: Andrei Svechnikov – Auston Matthews – Patrik Laine

Thoughts: Matthews has the puck-handling skill and on-ice vision to be an elite distributor with Laine alongside him. The size of all three forwards will be tough for most defensive pairings to handle.

Third line: Kyle Connor – Jack Eichel – Mikko Rantanen

Thoughts: Can this line match up with the opposition’s best and still produce offensively? The trio has the skill to be a top line for most NHL teams, but these three will be relied upon to play a smart, efficient, two-way game.

Fourth line: Matthew Tkachuk – Dylan Larkin – Mitchell Marner

Thoughts: The inclusion of Larkin over a Mathew Barzal or Elias Pettersson will raise some questions, but he was the best option to be a fourth line center and contribute on the penalty kill. Matthew Tkachuk will provide some toughness and size to add an important element to the group.

First D pairing: Zach Werenski – Cale Makar
Second D pairing: Thomas Chabot – Charlie McAvoy
Third D pairing: Rasmus Dahlin – Adam Fox

Thoughts: The second pairing will likely match up against the opposition’s best, but each combination has a strong mix of complementary characteristics. I initially thought it would be tough to find a strong group of mature defensemen in this age range, but these players have established themselves as high-end D-men.

Starting Goalie: Carter Hart
Backup Goalie: Ilya Samsonov

Just Missed: Mathew Barzal, Quinn Hughes, Travis Konecny, Elias Pettersson, Ivan Provorov

Captain: Connor McDavid
Alternate captains: Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy

Analysis

This team should not struggle to score with a ton of fire power in the offensive unit. With two of the top three and six of the top 10 goal scorers from the current season, it will be hard to contain this prolific group of forwards.

Two areas of weakness for this team are its ability to play a strong two-way game in even strength situations and kill off timely penalties. Players of this ilk have the ability to play any style but the question will be if players like Eichel and Marner could buy in to a defensive oriented role.

Additionally, their goaltenders are unproven but have the talent needed to play against the world’s best.

Nevertheless, the amount of skill on this team should help them overcome any obstacles and be a formidable challenge for any opponent. The roster has several established leaders, but young stars of the NHL are always eager to prove they belong in the conversation with the game’s best. Channeling that emotion in the proper way could be the difference between a successful tournament run or an early exit.

Surprising omissions:

Quinn Hughes: The young blueliner has been sensational for the Canucks. He is currently in a tight race with Makar for the Calder Trophy awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. But the team will need size on the backend and cannot carry three undersized defensemen.

Elias Pettersson: The Swedish center is an excellent talent but didn’t fill a need when creating the lineup. While his talent is immense, this is a player that received the short end of the stick in order to build the most complete roster.


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.

2020 NHL Draft, Combine, Awards have been postponed

2020 NHL Draft postponed Combine Awards
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While the 2019-20 season remains on “pause,” the NHL announced that the 2020 NHL Draft, Combine, and Awards have all been postponed.

The league explains that the “location, timing, and format” of the 2020 NHL Draft (and corresponding lottery) will be announced once details have been finalized. This makes sense, as The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports that the league and team executives are battering around different ideas about how to handle the lottery (sub required).

(Sadly, Custance’s report also mostly shoots down the most-fun ideas, like a tournament among cellar dwellers to decide who gets the top pick. Perhaps that would be too exciting?)

The Combine was originally set for June 1-6 in Buffalo, the awards ceremony was going to take place in Las Vegas once again on June 18, while the 2020 NHL Draft was originally set for June 26-27 in Montreal.

If the NHL parallels other sports leagues, these events will likely be handled mostly online and in scaled-down formats, but we’ll wait and see.

Lamenting the Draft, Combine, Awards being postponed

Those looking for the biggest losers of this announcement will focus on:

  • Scouts, and other people who want to know if someone can or cannot do pull-ups.
  • People who love to laugh at awkward Combine photos, assuming that sweaty event doesn’t happen at all.

Actually, quick question. Which genre of Combine photo is more amusing? Do you rate the various funny faces while lifting shots the highest?

NHL Draft Lottery postponed no Combine lifting faces Lias Andersson
Sorry, Lias Andersson. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

… Or those V02 tests from earlier Combines, where the shenanigans went from cheeky to cruel once they got rid of those masks? (Waits for bad Bane impressions.)

NHL Draft Lottery postponed no Combine Bane Leon Draisaitl
Sorry, too, to Leon Draisaitl (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Actually, the answer is probably c) wild hockey hair photos.

NHL Draft Lottery postponed no Combine Timothy Liljegren
Timothy Liljegren somehow not touching one of those static energy machines at a science museum (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
  • Also losing: anyone wondering if Kenan Thompson would be back for another strong Awards performance. Would his rivalry with the Lightning have continued? We may never know.

Anyway, we still await bigger announcements regarding the 2019-20 NHL season, but now we know that the Draft, Combine, and Awards will be postponed. (Again, it’s fair to wonder how the Combine can really function. Rigorous workouts on Skype or Zoom? I’m running out of streaming platforms here, gang.)

Let’s be honest, shutting down the Awards in Vegas was kind of a no-brainer for public health, if nothing else. Trust me on that one.

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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.

Long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames

Flames long-term outlook Gaudreau Monahan Giordano Lindholm
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames. 

Pending free agents

The Core

The Flames played a little over their heads for much of 2018-19, building some belief that the Flames might possess one of the NHL’s best cores. Unfortunately, Nathan MacKinnon and the Avs rained on that parade during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and things got downright soggy at times in 2019-20.

Overall, though? The Flames’ core still looks quite good. Not best-in-class, but quite good.

If nothing else, they boast some serious value.

Thankfully, they didn’t overreact and trade Johnny Gaudreau, who’s almost insultingly underpaid ($6.75M AAV through 2021-22). Maybe 2018-19 inflated expectations for “Johnny Hockey,” but he’s still an excellent player.

It’s actually difficult to tell how much Sean Monahan and/or Elias Lindholm lean on Gaudreau for production, but both are cheap and covered for years, so it doesn’t really matter.

Matthew Tkachuk? He’s worth every bit of that $7M per year through 2021-22. So the forward group is covered pretty nicely.

And, yes, Mark Giordano‘s age (36) is troubling for the future, but we’ll get to that. For now, consider Giordano pretty fantastic (not quite Norris-fantastic, but fantastic nonetheless), and nicely cost-efficient at $6.75M. Giordano’s contract ending after 2021-22 mitigates much of that aging curve concern, too.

Now, not every long-term dollar is well-spent. While Milan Lucic isn’t as bad of a player as the snark suggests, his contract really is a headache. There are other issues, such as Mikael Backlund‘s troubling term.

Ultimately, though … not bad. Not cream of the crop stuff, but you can bump that group up quite a bit thanks to a mix of bargains and relatively limited risks.

Long-term needs for Flames

Consider Cam Talbot’s resurgence triage for the Flames’ goaltending situation. Talbot provided a short-term fix, but considering his pending UFA status and how unpredictable the position can be, will the Band-Aid slip off soon?

There’s quite a bit of uncertainty there, whether Talbot returns or the Flames find the “next” Talbot. Meanwhile, David Rittich presents an unpleasant form of predictability: he’s been consistently mediocre.

Unfortunately, the Flames face questions about how to insulate their goalies. Their defense lacks clarity beyond aging star Giordano, especially if both Hamonic and Brodie played their last games for the Flames. There are worse groups out there, but the Flames may be stuck with “good” while seeking “great.”

In ranking the NHL’s farm systems for The Athletic in January (sub required), Scott Wheeler placed the Flames 26th. Even at such a low ranking, Calgary’s highest rank prospects were forwards (and goalie Dustin Wolf), not defensemen. If the Flames get help on defense, it might have to come via free agency.

Oh yeah … they might need a coach, too, if they aren’t impressed with Geoff Ward.

Long-term strengths of Flames

While the Flames’ forward group ranks a notch or two behind the best of the best, it’s still quite good. The one-two punch of Gaudreau’s playmaking on one line and Tkachuk’s two-way peskiness on another can be very effective.

The Flames also lack a cap hit above Tkachuk’s $7M. That flexibility could come in very handy if other teams need to shed salary thanks to a coronavirus-related cap squeeze.

Even certain weaknesses could be spun as strengths.

Yes, their goalie situation is uncertain, but the Flames also enjoy flexibility. Before you scoff at that point, consider that Sergei Bobrovsky‘s performing at a sub-backup level for $10M per year at age 31.

Who’s to say that the Flames won’t successfully target better goaltending, at better prices, without the risky term other teams hand out?

Such flexibility opens up lanes for free agency, too. Perhaps the Flames could take that next step by landing, say, Alex Pietrangelo or Taylor Hall?

As is, the Flames mostly show the makings of a good team. Last season showed they could flirt with great, while this one reminded that there’s still work to do. They have a decent shot at getting there, even if they aren’t there yet.

(Then again, there’s also the possibility that they already missed their best chance or chances. Hockey’s fickle that way.)

MORE FLAMES BITS:
Looking at the 2019-20 Flames (so far?)
Biggest surprises and disappointments.

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.

Calgary Flames: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

Calgary Flames disappointments surprises Monahan Gaudreau
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames.

Gaudreau, Monahan have been disappointments for Flames

Johnny Gaudreau enjoyed the best season of his NHL career in 2018-19, setting career highs for goals (36) and points (99). Gaudreau blew away his previous career high of 84 points.

In doing so, Gaudreau might have set expectations too high for both himself and the Flames.

Some might pin Gaudreau’s slippage to a morale-busting first-round loss to the Avalanche during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After all, Gaudreau failed to score a single goal during that series, managing a measly assist over five games. If there was a shred of doubt about Gaudreau vs. Nathan MacKinnon, that debate was crushed with the speed of an authoritative overtime playoff game-winner.

Maybe Gaudreau is suffering from a minor crisis of confidence, but that armchair psychology likely falls short. Simply put, he was probably playing over his head last season, and then he regressed.

It’s still a disappointment for the Flames, though. With 58 points in 70 games, Gaudreau’s .83 points-per-game average is the third-worst of his career.

And, generally speaking, as Gaudreau goes, so does Sean Monahan.

It’s not surprising that Matthew Tkachuk ranks higher than Monahan and Gaudreau on this GAR chart (via Charting Hockey using Evolving Hockey’s stats), being that Tkachuk is such a five-on-five demon. But the two being run-of-the-mill by their standards made it tough for Calgary to pull away from the Pacific pack.

Flames firing Bill Peters was part of a run of coaching surprises

The series of events that ultimately led to the Flames firing Bill Peters was quite ugly, and there were also surprises along the way.

Frankly, the fact that Peters faced actual consequences — rather than another powerful person’s indiscretions merely being brushed under the rug — was a pleasant surprise. Peters facing repercussions doesn’t delete the unpleasant experiences Akim Aliu and others went through, yet it was a sign of progress in hockey — whether you consider the changes big or merely incremental.

Peters’ firing was part of a series of surprises in the coaching ranks that would probably go down as a bigger story for 2019-20 if COVID-19 hadn’t halted play altogether.

Cam Talbot rebounds for Flames

In a season of slippage for the Flames, Talbot’s lifting Calgary up.

After seeing his save percentage sink below .90 during his final year with the Oilers, Talbot’s been huge for Calgary. Talbot entered the “pause” with a three-game winning streak, and generated a strong .919 save percentage overall.

That’s all been crucial, as David Rittich remained mediocre. If he’s “Big Save Dave,” perhaps Rittich needs to focus a bit more on the small and medium-sized stops?

Flames aren’t getting pleasant surprises from Sam Bennett

Expecting more from Rittich (.907 save percentage in 2019-20) was foolish considering his .908 career average. Projecting a dramatic transformation from Bennett might have been even more foolish.

Yet, even by diminished standards, Bennett’s 2019-20 was extremely meh. Bennett only managed 12 points over 52 games, which translates to a career-worst .23 ppg.

The Flames have tried to hold out for value in potentially trading Bennett. That makes sense, as it would sting to receive very little for the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft. But considering how his numbers (and ice time) are sinking, maybe it would be best for everyone involved if a trade happened?

A change of scenery might be the only thing that leads to pleasant surprises for Bennett and the Flames.

Oh, and as a bonus surprise: Milan Lucic … not as bad as maybe people think. His contract remains bad, but Lucic seems like he can be an OK contributor overall. Yup, life and the Flames are both full of surprises … and OK, perhaps disappointments.

MORE FLAMES BITS

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.