Getty

PHT Morning Skate: Ron Hextall’s new job; Martin Jones has to prove himself

Leave a comment
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.

• All signs are pointing to a bridge deal between Tampa Bay and Brayden Point. (The Hockey News)

• Was Patrik Laine right when he complained about the way the Jets were using him? (TSN)

Carter Hart and Jakub Voracek will use sticks with designs made by kids with childhood cancer. (NHL.com)

Alex Ovechkin will receive the Wayne Gretzky International Award from USA Hockey. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• Ron Hextall found himself a new job as a part-time advisor for the LA Kings. (NBC Sports Philly)

• Sharks goalie Martin Jones has to prove himself all over again after a rough season. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• For the Kings to get back to the Stanley Cup Final, Rob Blake knows his team has to do a great job of developing young talent. (LA Times)

• The Oilers and Jets could be realistic trade partners. (Oilers Nation)

Elias Pettersson continues to amaze everyone in Vancouver heading into his second year. (Sportsnet)

Kyle Okposo is ready to give the Buffalo Sabres everything he’s got. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

Tanner Fritz is fighting for a playoff spot now that he’s over the blood clot. (NHL.com/Islanders)

Dominik Kubalik could be a break-out candidate for the Chicago Blackhawks. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• The Pens’ lack of room under the salary cap will affect the depth of their squad. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)

• How Marc Bergevin is quietly preventing a disaster from happening. (A Winning Habit)

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines entering training camp

1 Comment

In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we take a look at some of the biggest storylines across the league that are worth watching throughout the 31 training camps. The top issue throughout the offseason has been the ongoing RFA standstill, but that has been discussed so much and is starting to resolve itself with signings trickling in that we are going to focus on topics outside of that.

Included among them, a major goaltending competition that could impact one team’s entire season, new coaches in new places, coaches on the hot seat, and whether or not a recent league MVP will want to re-sign with his current team.

What else are we keeping an eye on this preseason? Let’s get to the rankings to find out!

1. Columbus’ goalie competition. It might be the most interesting and important competition in any camp across the league. The Blue Jackets are getting fed up with being told how bad they will be this season, and while they still have a lot of reasons for optimism on the roster the ability of either Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins to adequately replace Sergei Bobrovsky will determine what the team is capable of doing.

2. Joel Quenneville’s impact in Florida. It has been a long time since Panthers fans have had a reason for optimism at the start of a season. This might even be the first time since they came off a Stanley Cup Final appearance all the way back in 1996 that they have reason to believe better days are ahead. They had a huge offseason that was kicked off with the addition of a future Hall of Fame, three-time Stanley Cup winning coach.

3. Taylor Hall‘s future in New Jersey. Ray Shero was one of the NHL’s busiest general managers this summer with the additions of P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev, and the drafting of Jack Hughes with No. 1 overall pick. His biggest move, though, will be convincing his best player to stay in New Jersey and sign a long-term deal. Hall missed most of the last season due to injury and the Devils were never able to recover from that. Now that he is back the pressure is on New Jersey to get back to the playoffs. If they can’t do that after all of their summer additions, what motivation is there for Hall to want to re-sign?

4. Connor McDavid‘s health. This could probably be even higher on the list, but it seems like he is going to be ready for the start of the season. Still, he is coming back from a pretty significant injury at the end of the last season and there is reason to believe he may not quite be 100 percent at the start. He is the league’s best player and if the Oilers have any hope of competing they not only need him to be healthy, they need him to put the entire franchise on his back and carry it. Tough ask.

5. Coaches on the hot seat. Bruce Boudreau has to be pretty high on this list. He has already done the impossible for an NHL head coach and outlasted two GMs in Minnesota, but how long of a leash will he get under new GM Bill Guerin? Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice also has to be near the top of this list. The Jets badly regressed a year ago and have a ton of question marks entering the season and a slow start could lead to a change behind the bench.

6. The Colorado hype. They have what might be the best young core in the NHL, addressed their biggest depth needs at forward with the additions of Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Nazem Kadri, and have a couple of young stars on defense in Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram. They already took a huge step a year ago by reaching Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and with the roster they have entering this season (as well as the salary cap space at their disposal) there is going to be plenty of pressure to take the next step.

7. First-round picks competing for roster spots. Jack Hughes (New Jersey) and Kaapo Kakko (New York Rangers), the top two picks in the 2019 NHL draft, seem to be locks to make their respective rosters, but are there any other 2019 first-round picks that can find their way onto a roster this season? Kirby Dach with the Blackhawks? Byram in Colorado? Maybe Dylan Cozens in Buffalo?

8. Craig Berube and Jordan Binnington in St. Louis. The hiring of Berube and call-up of Binnington were the two turning points for the Blues on their way to a Stanley Cup. What will the duo be capable of for an encore when expectations will undoubtedly be higher than they were when they made their Blues debuts? The biggest question probably rests with Binnington’s ability to duplicate his 2018-19 performance over a full season.

9. Ralph Krueger in Buffalo. The Sabres’ head coaching position has been a revolving door of mediocrity over the past eight years. Can Krueger be the one break the cycle that has seen them make a change every two years? Or will his tenure be more of the same for an organization that has given its loyal fans nothing but grief for nearly a decade now?

10. Will it be another lost season for the Southern California teams? The Kings were terrible from the start a year ago, while the Ducks eventually cratered in the second half after goaltending carried them as far as it could early in the year. Is there any reason to expect anything different this season? The Ducks already lost veterans Corey Perry (buyout), Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves (injury) and did not really add much to their roster over the summer. The Kings still seem stuck in limbo in what direction they want to take as an organization and will be relying heavily on bounce-back years from veterans. Instead of fighting for a Stanley Cup, this intense rivalry might be about draft lottery odds.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Anze Kopitar on Kings’ season to forget, playing for Todd McLellan

It was a forgettable season for the Los Angeles Kings. They finished last in the Western Conference, saw a third playoff-less season in five years, posted their lowest point total over an 82-game season since 2007-08, and had a coaching change that failed to lead to improvement.

General manager Rob Blake began the slow process of turning around the franchise’s fortunes in the summer by drafting Alex Turcotte fifth overall, buying out Dion Phaneuf’s contract, and hiring Todd McLellan as head coach.

Anze Kopitar was one of a number of Kings who experienced a down year offensively. Coming off a 2017-18 season where he won the Selke Trophy and was a Hart Trophy finalist, the captain saw his goal total drop from 35 to 22 and points from 92 to 60. The sooner the season could end so they could turn the page and move forward, the better.

We spoke with Kopitar at the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago last week about the Kings’ down year, working with McLellan and more.

Enjoy.

Q. Why did last season go so poorly for the team?

KOPITAR: “Everything went wrong, pretty much. We were battling some injuries early on — not that that’s an excuse but it certainly doesn’t help. Then we just had a poor start and we couldn’t pick ourselves up, really. The coaching change… the change didn’t do what we kind of needed and wanted. It was a rough season, for sure. I think in the end everybody was glad that it was over so we could step away a little bit and recharge and get ready for this year.”

Q. It was a down year for you offensively. What can you attribute that to?

KOPITAR: “Just a combination of everything. There’s no secret that I have to be and can be a lot better than I was last year. I will be better this year, for sure. Wearing the ‘C’ and being the captain of the team, a lot of it falls on me and I’ll take the responsibility, too. My game was not where it needed to be, but this is in the past now, we’re looking ahead and looking to see what we can do better.”

Q. This will be your 14th season. What do you see when you look back at where the league is right now compared to when you came in?

KOPITAR: “It’s been a little bit since my first game. The league has changed a little bit, definitely has gotten smaller and faster. I’m just trying to keep up as an older player now. The league is still very fun and being out in LA we still think we have the pieces to get back to where we want to be.”

Q. What do you know about Todd McLellan that excites you for the future?

KOPITAR: “Todd’s a very upbeat guy from what I’ve experience so far with him. We were on the phone quite a bit and met a couple of times. He’s got this energy about him that he brings in the room and makes his presence felt, which is what we need. That can translates onto the ice for us.”

Q. When you meet with a new head coach before the season what kind of messages do you want to convey to him about what the team is all about?

KOPITAR: “I think first and foremost it’s building the relationship. Me being one of the leaders, he’s probably going to talk to me quite a bit and I’ll try to talk to him as much as I can, too. It’s just building the relationship and pointing out the stuff that was done good and pointing out the stuff that needed to be a lot better. It’s a two-way street in the dialogue. At the end of the day we’re all just trying to get better and that’s where we’re pointing everything towards.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

————

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.

Ovechkin seems comfortable chasing Gretzky’s goals record

Getty Images
14 Comments

Considering the “Aww, shucks” demeanor of many NHL players, it’s still sometimes surprising to hear someone speak the truth in a matter-of-fact way.

Of course you’d think Alex Ovechkin would want to someday break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record of 894, but plenty of players would mumble some sort of cliche about it. Yet, at 236 goals away at 658, it’s at least a conceivable goal, and it sounds like Ovechkin’s at least willing to state the obvious: that it’s at least in the back of his mind.

Elliotte Friedman pointed out that Ovechkin stated as much in the latest edition of “31 Thoughts.”

“Of course it matters,” Ovechkin said when asked about Gretzky’s record, “But like I said, I’m not going to score 300 goals in two years. It’s going to take five or six years. I have to be healthy enough to do that. I don’t want to play just for that record. I want to be healthy, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy the moment when I’m on the ice.”

… While Ovechkin acknowledged the possibility to Sportsnet radio hosts Tim & Sid:

(“We have to talk about something,” indeed.)

With unique talents like Gretzky and Ovechkin, extraordinary numbers and feats start to feel expected, and ordinary.

For most NHL forwards, 236 goals would make for a really nice career, let alone a number to strive for when you’ve already played 1,000+ NHL games, won multiple high-level awards, and a Stanley Cup. That goal is especially lofty when you realize Ovechkin will turn 34 on Sept. 17.

But considering the machine-like scoring of the Russian Machine Who Never Breaks, it’s irresistible to forecast Ovechkin flirting with 900.

For those who truly cannot resist, consider the paces Ovechkin would need to reach 894 from his current 658:

Four seasons: 59 goals per year.

Five seasons: A bit more than 47 goals per year (47.2).

Six seasons: Slightly less than 40 goals per season (39.33).

Seven seasons: Almost 34 goals per season (33.7).

Eight seasons: Essentially a 30-goal average (29.5).

Nine seasons: Slightly more than 26 goals per year (26.2).

Ten seasons: 23.6 goals per year (or about 24).

The interesting thing about stretching that pace out is that, while Ovechkin playing longer into a career would increase the odds by sheer volume, to some extent it does a better job of putting the monumental task into perspective. If Ovechkin got hurt or was slowed, he’d have to remain at a high level for a long time, or manage to maintain his currently extremely high level for a considerable run.

(Consider that, in 2018-19, only 87 players finished with at least 23 goals.)

Yet, if any player can actually meet or exceed 894 goals, it’s Ovechkin. Remarkably, he’s still slightly ahead of Gretzky’s sniping pace, as Ovechkin’s 658 goals in 1,084 games puts him at .61 goals-per-game, while Gretzky’s 894 in 1,487 is slightly behind at .60.

This race has been discussed before, including at PHT, and will almost certainly be a topic as Ovechkin’s career continues, what with Ovechkin coming off of a 51-goal, Maurice Richard Trophy-winning season in 2018-19.

Whether Ovechkin makes it or falls short, it should be fun to watch.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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 Power Rankings: Biggest stories of the offseason

Getty

With NHL training camps set to begin and the 2019-20 season just around the corner, this week’s NHL Power Rankings will be taking a look back at the biggest storylines of the offseason.

Offer sheets, restricted free agents, a Metropolitan Division arms race, the general manager and coaching carousel in full swing, and even a few oddities.

What were the biggest stories of the summer? To the rankings!

The big stories

1. The rise and fall of Paul Fenton. Simply the most stunning story of the offseason. After one mostly disastrous season in charge of the Minnesota Wild, Fenton was fired this offseason and replaced by Bill Guerin. It’s not just that he was fired after a year, but that the Wild waited until after the draft and free agency to make the move.

2. Sebastian Aho‘s offer sheet. It had been six years since a restricted free agent signed an offer sheet with another team, and it was starting to feel like it was never going to happen again. Then Aho and the Montreal Canadiens actually went through with the process. Only problem was the Canadiens made it a contract that was ridiculously easy for the Carolina Hurricanes to match.

3. Unsigned RFAs. With the start of training camp just days away almost all of the top RFAs remain unsigned. Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Kyle Connor, Charlie McAvoy, Ivan Provorov, Brock Boeser. It is unprecedented to have this many top-tier RFAs still unsigned this late in the summer. Many of these negotiations will continue throughout training camp and the preseason, but how many will spill over to the regular season?

4. Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s IIHF suspension. Three months after a social media video surfaced of Washington Capitals star Evgeny Kuznetsov in a room with white powder on a table, he was handed a four-year suspension by the IIHF due to a positive cocaine test in May. Kuznetsov voluntarily sought help through the NHL’s education and counseling program and is expected to meet with commissioner Gary Bettman before training camp.

5. Metropolitan Division madness. The Devils and Rangers re-ignited their rivalry with big offseasons that saw them land the top two picks in the draft and acquire some big name veterans, the Flyers overhauled their defense and gave Kevin Hayes a ton of money, the Blue Jackets lost several key players, the Penguins traded Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta, and the Hurricanes added to an already outstanding defense.

6. Florida goes all in Bob. The worst kept secret at the start of the summer was Sergei Bobrovsky going to the Florida Panthers. He fills their biggest need and could be the piece they need to get back in the playoffs, especially after hiring Joel Quenneville as head coach in April.

7. The GM and coaching carousel. Decades after he revived the Red Wings as a player, Steve Yzerman returns to Detroit to try and do the same as the general manager. That paved the way for Ken Holland to leave Detroit to try and rebuild the charred remains of the Peter Chiarelli era in Edmonton. Behind the benches, six teams will have new coaches as Quenneville (Florida), Alain Vigneault (Philadelphia), Todd McLellan (Los Angeles), Ralph Krueger (Buffalo), D.J. Smith (Ottawa), Dave Tippett (Edmonton), and Dallas Eakins (Anaheim) get their chances. For many, it is a second (or third) chance behind an NHL bench.

8. Nashville’s big change. The Predators needed another game-breaking forward to help fix a dreadful power play that failed them all year. They hope to have found that in Matt Duchene. To make room for him they had to deal from their depth on defense and dump P.K. Subban‘s salary. Are they a better team with Duchene over Subban? David Poile is taking a big gamble that they are.

9. Ron Francis takes over Seattle. This is going to be a tough job, not only because he is starting an organization from scratch, but because expectations will be almost unreachable given what happened with the Vegas Golden Knights.

10. New rules. Video review is being expanded to cover major and match penalties, as well as goals scored as the result of a hand pass, high stick on the puck, or pucks that should have been whistled for being out of play. There are also some new player safety rules in place. Read all about them here.

The oddities

11. Robin Lehner‘s New York “Rangers” Masterton Trophy. Lehner won the 2018-19 Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player that shows perseverance and dedication to hockey, and gave an inspiring speech at the awards ceremony. When he actually received the physical trophy it had him playing for the New York Rangers. He played the 2018-19 season for the New York Islanders. Fans of those teams do not like being confused for the other.

12. NJ Devil goes through the glass. What was the mascot trying to accomplish? No one knows, but it spoiled a child’s birthday party by running through a giant glass window.

13. Connor McDavid‘s skate lace belt. Not really sure what else to say here, other than when you are the best in the world you can dress however you want.

Getty

14. Phil Kessel’s one-room theatre. After putting his Pittsburgh home on the market, the Internet pounced on a random photo of what looked to be the loneliest movie theatre room in the world … a single desk chair in front of a big screen TV. Kessel said he never actually used the room, it had been empty, and his realtor thought they should put a chair in it to give the feel of a theatre. It was still fun while it lasted.

15. Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s reaction to Keenan Thompson’s Lightning joke. He did not find it amusing (Victor Hedman, however, cracked a smile).

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.