The Detroit Red Wings are falling out of the playoff race in the Atlantic Division, and will now be without one of their best defensemen for quite some time. Mike Green will be out three to five weeks with a lower-body injury according to head coach Jeff Blashill, who spoke with reporters including Bruce Garrioch of Postmedia today. Filip Hronek has been recalled to fill Green’s spot on the roster.
The Edmonton Oilers are rolling right now after installing a more defensive structure under new head coach Ken Hitchcock, but will now be without one of their best defensemen. Oscar Klefbom has been placed on injured reserve after suffering a hand injury in last night’s game that should keep him out “weeks.” The team has also activated Drake Caggiula while assigning Cooper Marody to the AHL. To make up for Klefbom’s absence, the team has recalled defenseman Caleb Jones, who could make his long-awaited NHL debut soon.
In the first ten games of the Hitchcock era in Edmonton, he made it very clear that he would lean heavily on the players who he thought gave him the best chance to win. Klefbom was one of them, averaging over 26 minutes a night before going down to injury against Colorado. The 25-year old had also recorded seven points in those ten games, including two game-winning goals. That’s nearly half his production for the entire season, and was a stretch that had him closer to the 2016-17 version that helped the Oilers reach the playoffs.
Losing him means someone else—almost surely Darnell Nurse—will have to carry the load defensively and play nearly half the game. Nurse got a taste of that when he recorded 30:44 of ice time last night, the highest total of his career by three full minutes. Along with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Nurse will have to really excel in this period without Klefbom on the blue line and help the Oilers maintain their quick ascension of the Western Conference standings. Edmonton has gone 8-2-1 with Hitchcock in charge, and now sit just one point out of second place in the Pacific Division with a game in hand on both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks.
The Pittsburgh Penguins finally have their expected starter back. Matt Murray has been activated from injured reserve, while Tristan Jarry was sent back to the minor leagues. Now the question becomes how the Penguins will use Murray, given Casey DeSmith’s stellar play as the starter in his absence. DeSmith has posted a .925 save percentage through 20 appearances this season, a number Murray has reached since 2016-17.
Back in October, head coach Mike Sullivan claimed that Murray was still obviously the team’s number one, despite DeSmith’s success early on. That assertion will be tested as the season progresses, and the Penguins attempt to continue their climb up the ladder of the Metropolitan Division standings.
After starting his career about as well as possible with back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, Murray has struggled recently to find an elite level capable of putting the Penguins over the edge. Some of that has to do with injury—Murray has suffered from multiple ailments including several concussions over his short career—and some with simple inconsistency. Both things will be tested now that he has ample competition for the starter role, in both DeSmith and top prospect Jarry. The team certainly can’t wait around for his play to rebound if they want to keep pace in the Metropolitan, where the Washington Capitals are starting to extend their lead and look like the dominant team that took home the Cup last season.
Since Ken Hitchcock took over as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers back on November 20th, the team is 7-2-1 and back in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Oilers’ players seem to have embraced Hitchchock’s system and the veteran coach may be the author of a turnaround for a franchise that had been heading in the wrong direction for more than a year. Will that earn him an extension beyond his current interim role? TSN’s Darren Dreger thinks so, as he stated on the latest segment of “Insider Trading” that Hitchcock appears to be a long-term option for the Oilers. The 66-year-old was set to retire from coaching at the end of the 2016-17 season, back when he was with the St. Louis Blues, but was fired by the team before the end of the season. That made his hiring by the Dallas Stars in the following off-season even more surprising. After last season, Hitchcock again announced his “retirement”, only to join the Oilers when they called this season. Hitchcock doesn’t really seem to be committed to moving on from the game and Dreger believes that a winning season would leave Edmonton with little choice but to extend their new coach’s contract. Dreger adds that Hitchcock could wind up with a deal that would allow him to transition from the bench into a front office role if he so chooses, but doesn’t doubt that Hitchcock could continue to coach the team “well beyond this season”.
- One of the more evident changes under Hitchcock has been his trust in backup goaltender Mikko Koskinen, if backup is even the correct title anymore for the import keeper. After Cam Talbot started each of the Oilers’ first eight games of the season, Koskinen has received 13 starts to Talbot’s nine the rest of the way. Under Hitchcock, it has been seven games for Koskinen out of ten total. After shutting out the Calgary Flames last night, Hitchcock announced that he would stick with Koskinen again tonight when the Oilers take on the Colorado Avalanche. Admittedly, Koskinen has outplayed Talbot with a .929 save percentage, 2.06 GAA, and three shutouts – all among the league’s best marks – so the real test of Hitchcock’s trust in the “rhythm” will come when Koskinen begins to struggle. For now, the new coach and his new starting goalie are helping each other make a case for extended stays in Edmonton.
- Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug has been a name connected to the Oilers, through unconfirmed rumors and media speculation, for some time. It was believed that Boston and Edmonton were close to a deal that would have sent Krug to the Oilers at the NHL Draft this past June, while rumors of ongoing discussions continued through the summer. Edmonton could certainly use Krug, one of the most productive defensemen in the NHL over the past few years, and there is some level of familiarity with the player on the Oilers’ side in former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. While they have leaned on Krug as the team fought through injuries early this season, the defenseman is also not as crucial a piece for the Bruins as he would be for other teams, with Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk representing future offensive threats on the blue line and Krug’s contract expiring after next season. As such, a hypothetical deal has some intrigue and Boston Globe beat writer Matt Porter re-ignited the discussion recently when he posited that the Bruins could potentially pry Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton with a package of Krug and a young forward. As the idea picked up steam among fans, The Sports Hub’s Ty Anderson put an end to the possibility – possibly for good – with his report that the Oilers are in fact one of the team’s on Krug’s limited no-trade list, a clause that kicked in for the first time this season. So, while the Bruins and Oilers may make fine trade partners hypothetically, a Krug-to-Edmonton deal is unlikely to happen.
As the holiday season approaches, PHR will take a look at what teams are thankful for as the season heads past the one-quarter mark. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. Let’s take a look at what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Los Angeles Kings. Click here for the other articles in this series.
What are the Kings most thankful for?
With a victory Saturday over division-rival Vegas and having split four of their last eight games, Los Angeles has pushed its way out of 31st place in the NHL. While that’s not necessarily something to be thankful for, the veteran-laden Kings started so badly that they were last in the NHL by far. However, the team has shown slight improvements since the team fired John Stevens and replaced him with Willie Desjardins on Nov. 4, who has a 7-10 record so far with the team. While that’s nothing great, the team has picked up a few key wins such as on Saturday and can only hope that things will be getting better on a daily basis.
Who are the Kings most thankful for?
With all the goaltending injuries that the team has sustained this season as both Jonathan Quick and backup Jack Campbell have missed large chunks of the season already, the team’s goaltending hasn’t been that bad. The team has been right in the middle, ranked 15th in save percentage with a .903, which is impressive considering their issues. In fact, the always reliable Quick has been the weakest link for the team in goal this year as he has a 3.23 GAA and a .893 save percentage in nine appearances, although it’s likely he’s not playing at 100 percent.
The team should be impressed, however, with their success from their other goalies as Campbell fared quite well filling in for Quick initially before he went down with the same lower-body injury that Quick suffered. Campbell has posted a 2.33 GAA and a .923 save percentage in 13 games, while AHL prospect Calvin Petersen has fared equally as well with a 2.41 GAA and a .929 save percentage in nine games.
What would the Kings be even more thankful for?
Goal scoring. Team star Anze Kopitar, who is coming off a 35-goal, 92-point season last year, remains the team’s top scorer, but has just seven goals and 18 points — hardly numbers of a player who should be somewhere among the league leaders in scoring. In fact, the team’s lack of scoring can’t be placed on just one person as the entire team’s offense has been lethargic all season as other players including Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and their big offseason acquisition Ilya Kovalchuk have all struggled this year. If Kopitar and some of the other veterans can pick up the pace a bit and start to show their value, the team could find the offense they need to move them from out of the bottom of the Pacific Division.
What should be on the Kings’ Holiday Wish List?
The team has brought in multiple youngsters to attempt to bring life to the team and while some of those players have had limited success such as Matt Luff, the Kings really need to shake up their roster and begin to reshape their franchise. While there have been plenty of rumors around about L.A. moving on from players like Jeff Carter or Tyler Toffoli, the team remains laden with multiple long-term deals that they are stuck with. If they can find any way to move one or two of them, they have to hope someone finds enough value in some of those veterans that they would be willing to take them off their hands.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
5:50: The Department of Player Safety has suspended Hyman for two games for the hit against McAvoy on Saturday. He is expected to miss games in Carolina and then a key divisional matchup against Tampa Bay on Thursday. He will be back in the Maple Leafs’ lineup for Saturday’s game in Florida. Hyman will forfeit $24,193.55 from the suspension.
Hyman was ejected from Saturday’s game against Boston after a blindsiding hit against McAvoy with about 10 minutes left in the game and Toronto trailing 6-2. McAvoy was having a solid night with a plus-four rating in more than 18 minutes of ice time. McAvoy was just in his second game back after returning from a concussion, which had sidelined him for 20 games. McAvoy exited the game to undergo concussion protocol. He did return to the bench in the final minute of the game.
Boston head coach Bruce Cassidy believed Saturday that it deserved a look from the Department of Player Safety.
“I thought it was late. I thought it was unnecessary. If the league takes a look at it – I don’t know if they will or not, usually they do if there’s a major involved. It’s one of those things where you’re at a point in the game, hasn’t been a lot of body checking from the other team and all of a sudden there’s a late unsuspecting one, and it annoys you,” said Cassidy. “Especially when it’s Charlie [McAvoy], who had just came back [from a concussion]. So you’re wondering are they targeting him or not? You don’t know that.”
It’s been a wildly inconsistent year for the Arizona Coyotes who have seen losing streaks like when they went 2-6-2 during one stretch, but have also had a four and a five-game winning streak as well this season. One issue has been the play of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. While his numbers have been similar to his yearly totals, coach Rick Tocchet wants to see more from his new captain, according to The Athletic’s Craig Morgan (subscription required).
Tocchet wants to see Ekman-Larsson be the best player on the ice every game, which hasn’t always been the case. In the past 11 games, Ekman-Larsson has just three assists, which just isn’t enough for a team that still remains short on fire power. Tocchet needs Ekman-Larson to take that next step in his development after the team gave him a six-year, $33MM extension last March and named him captain during the offseason.
“There’s no question I want him to take charge,” Tocchet said. “In a 2-2 game when he gets the puck, I want him to walk the blue line with that look like, ‘I’m going to make the play’ or ‘I’m going to shoot the puck.’ When you have those games – and we’ve all seen those games — where you walk off and say, ‘Wow, 23! What a game out there!’ It’s when he’s engaged.”
- The Vegas Golden Knights could be ready to get back one of their injured players as center Paul Stastny, who has been seen getting some skating and practice times in, will join the team on their upcoming road trip which starts Wednesday in New York and may even get into the lineup at some point during the trip, according to Las Vegas Review-Journal’s David Schoen.“Don’t be surprised if you see him early next week,” Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant said. Stastny has missed most of the season with a lower-body injury and has appeared in just three games so far this year. Stastny’s return should only add depth to a team that is still missing Erik Haula and has been forced to pair Max Pacioretty with third-liners Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch, although that line has fared quite well over the past few weeks.
- While there was plenty of criticism during the offseason when the Vancouver Canucks signed forward Antoine Roussel to a four-year, $12MM deal, The Province’s Ben Kuzma writes that Roussel is proving his value as he has quickly taken over the role that Derek Dorsett once had with the team. The 29-year-old has produced a bit on the ice as well with three goals, 12 points and 67 penalty minutes and is on-pace to eclipse his career high of 29 points. “The one thing about Roussel is his engine always runs hot and he’s always competing, and that reminds me a little bit of Dorsett,” Vancouver head coach Travis Green said. “They care about their teammates and want to win desperately. That’s part of the culture we’re trying to create.”
When the Los Angeles Kings fired head coach John Stevens on November 4th, the team was 4-8-1 with a points percentage of .346. Since then, L.A. is 7-10-0 with a points percentage of .412. Despite the change behind the bench to Willie Desjardins and also the swap of Tanner Pearson for Carl Hagelin, not much has really changed for the Kings. As such, it’s no surprise that GM Rob Blake is still searching for another trade partner to shake up his roster.
The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports that the Kings are actively working the phones and are hoping to make another move ahead of the NHL’s holiday roster freeze, beginning on December 19th. That gives Blake ten days to put together another trade. A rumor emerged yesterday that the offensive struggles and hefty contract of Jeff Carter, who lacks any trade protection, could lead the Kings to move the former scoring star this season. However, Garrioch feels that Tyler Toffoli is the more likely name to move next, stating that L.A. is receiving plenty of interest in the young winger. Toffoli’s $4.6MM cap hit is only about $700K less than Carter’s, but expires at the end of next season, whereas the 33-year-old Carter has three years remaining after this season. On top of that, the 26-year-old Toffoli has only two less points than Carter thus far and has the relative youth to change his game on a new team and return to his previous 50-point pace of play. Carter may simply be slowing down and may not be able to make a similar post-trade adjustment. Blake is likely impartial when it comes to moving his disappointing forwards and is likely to get a better return for Toffoli, despite Carter’s name value.
In terms of finding a trade partner, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman hears that the market is active right now. Friedman relayed the opinion that the resolution of the William Nylander situation in Toronto has re-ignited trade interest in other players across the league. In naming a number of teams reportedly looking to make a deal, Friedman not only names the Kings, but also a pair of potential matches in the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild. Both teams have strong rosters capable of competing for the Stanley Cup this season, but have run into struggles lately for one reason or another. Both Boston and Minnesota share a need for secondary scoring and have the intriguing young and fast forwards that L.A. would likely look for in return. The Bruins could move on from a Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork to add Toffoli, while the Wild could part with Charlie Coyle or Joel Eriksson Ek. Other teams that would seem to be fits to add a Kings scoring forward include the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, or Philadelphia Flyers. If Garrioch’s report that Blake is eager to make a move before the Christmas break proves true, a deal involving these players and teams could be on the way soon.
With Seattle becoming the NHL’s 32nd team, you might think the Vancouver Canucks wouldn’t be thrilled to have a team right on their doorstep. However, that’s not the case. In fact, Vancouver ownership and fans are thrilled to bring a natural rival for their team and hope that it will continue to spark interest not only in Seattle, but bring in more fans in Vancouver as well, according to the Associated Press.
”Vancouver is already a partner. They were the most enthusiastic team in the league about this. They love the idea of this rivalry,” Seattle team President Tod Leiweke said. ”I think for the two cities to connect like this, the two cities are 130 miles away but now they’re going to connect in a whole different way and I think that’s one of the great things that is going to come out of all this is a deep, deep visceral connection between Vancouver and Seattle and we’re going to play some great games.”
Both franchises hope that the rivalry will increase marketing, interest in the game and the hope that each franchise’s fanbase will travel back and forth between cities when they face off against each other. While there would normally be reason to worry that each franchise might take away from each other in terms of fans, there is no concern of that here as it is believed the U.S.-Canadien border is likely the perfect barrier for fans on which side they want to follow.
- Sticking with Vancouver, Canucks head coach Travis Green said that forward Sven Baertschi is progressing nicely and might be ready to practice with the team when in Vancouver on Monday and Tuesday. Baertschi has been out since Oct. 24 with a concussion. Baertschi has only appeared in 10 games for Vancouver this season and has three goals and three assists.
- While only a rumor, Sportsnet reports that Nick Kypreos reported on Hockey Night in Canada tonight that the St. Louis Blues are considering moving defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and the Toronto Maple Leafs could be the prime target, suggesting that the Maple Leafs are offering Nikita Zaitsev, picks and prospects as part of a package. While that would be a huge win for the Toronto Maple Leafs, expect much of the league to weigh in on Pietrangelo if St. Louis truly intends to trade him. Pietrangelo, who is currently on LTIR, could become a unrestricted free agent after the 2019-20 season.
- The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz (subscription required) writes that one of the biggest problems with the San Jose Sharks is the regression of veteran defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who is starting the first year of an eight-year, $56MM contract, pointing out that the 31-year-old Vlasic is playing like a third-line defenseman this season and his minus-14 plus/minus ratio is quite accurate as he has struggled mightily.
- Fox Sports Jon Rosen reports that Gabriel Vilardi is not in the lineup for the Ontario Reign of the AHL due to an injury and is expected to be evaluated on Monday by Los Angeles Kings doctors. The 19-year-old forward has been on a long-term conditioning assignment in Ontario, having posted one assist in four games there so far. He has missed significant time in each of the last two seasons due to back injury.
While many people may not have noticed as much with the impressive play of rookie Miro Heiskanen, the Dallas Stars have been missing their top defenseman John Klingberg for an entire month after suffering a hand injury. The team’s top defenseman, however, is closing on a return and is expected to be back somewhere around Christmas, according to NHL.com’s Mark Stepneski.
“The latest we would think would be Dec. 27, the game after Christmas,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery said earlier this week. “But he might be right before Christmas.”
Klingberg has already missed 13 games and is not expected to join the team for their upcoming four-game road trip starting on Sunday. However, the 26-year-old hopes to begin practicing with the team when they return from that road trip. While his hand has been improving, he still has trouble of doing specific things with his hand, which includes tying his skates. However, he has gotten clearance to do more with his hand.
“It’s been tough because I haven’t been able to lift anything with this hand,” Klingberg said. “I saw the hand doctor [Thursday], and they said they you are good to go and try as much as you can and no sharp pains. So, I am going to grab a stick next week and when the guys come back home we will see where I am.”
- Sarah MacLellan of the StarTribune writes that with Minnesota Wild Mikko Koivu returning to Minnesota to get his lower-body injury looked at, the team hopes that other players might step up with more minutes available. Koivu led all forwards this season in ATOI with 18:32. That could mean more minutes for guys like Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter as well as youngsters Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway. “Mikko’s obviously a huge part of our team,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “He’s irreplaceable, but that’s a good opportunity for people to fill some different roles and get some more ice time. When we’re winning, we’re winning because we’re deep and everyone’s chipping in. That doesn’t change when somebody goes down.”
- While sitting out for the last week, Winnipeg Jets’ Josh Morrissey has been doing nothing but studying film in his off time, according to Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun. Morrissey has watched more than a dozen NHL games, including some of his own to see what’s missing from his game, while keeping an eye on future opponents. In the meantime, the defenseman has passed all of his tests, while recovering from a lower-body injury, and hopes to return to the Winnipeg lineup on Sunday.
- While the Chicago Blackhawks have liked what they see on the ice from 2016 second-round prospect Artur Kayumov so far in his early career, the 20-year-old picked up some negative publicity recently as the KHL announced that Kayumov has been suspended for 13 games after a hit to the head to Jokerit’s Jesper Jensen as well as punching a referee in the process. Kayumov, playing currently for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv, has 11 points and 55 penalty minutes this season.