The NHL All-Star Skills Competition is scheduled for this evening, and though Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon have both pulled out due to illness and injury there are still an incredible amount of talented players taking part. Most notable however may be the final entrant in the fastest skater competition: Kendall Coyne. A member of the US Women’s National Team, Coyne will take MacKinnon’s place after the Colorado Avalanche forward suffered a foot injury this week. The Olympic gold medalist is known for her speed and posted a 14.226 yesterday during event testing according to Emily Kaplan of ESPN. Though that wouldn’t have been enough to dethrone Connor McDavid last year, it would have put her ahead of Zach Werenski, Noah Hanifin and Josh Bailey in the competition. We’ll see what Coyne can do tonight, along with the rest of the competitors:
The NHL has announced the four rosters for the 2019 All-Star Game today, scheduled to be held on January 26th in San Jose. Earlier today, Alex Ovechkin, who was elected captain of Metropolitan Division squad, told the league that he wouldn’t be attending and will accept the punishment of missing one game either before or after the break. Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and Auston Matthews will represent the Pacific, Central and Atlantic respectively, as the other captains. A replacement Metropolitan captain for Ovechkin has yet to be named.
The full rosters are as follows:
*Denotes team captain
One final skater spot on each roster has yet to be announced, as it will be determined by the “Last Man In” fan ballot, a concept borrowed from Major League Baseball. The format of the current All-Star Game, which requires one representative from each team on these smaller 3-on-tournament rosters, was bound to cause some confusion with the initial selections. Seven top-twenty scorers were not selected – Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Leon Draisaitl, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Phil Kessel, and Gabriel Landeskog – and several will inevitably remain out of All-Star participation even after the fan ballot additions. Morgan Rielly, the league’s top-scoring defenseman, and Mark Giordano, enjoying an elite season on both sides of the puck, are two surprising omissions on the blue line. Several of the league’s top goalies are also going to miss out, ineligible for the fan ballot, including Ben Bishop, Frederik Andersen, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. The “Last Man In” will be an intriguing new addition to the All-Star process, with nominees to be named shortly, but more than a few notable names will be left out regardless. Meanwhile, the health of players like Price and Chabot for Team Atlantic and Hall for Team Metropolitan will bear watching, as those players may opt to skip the All-Star festivities, opening up more players to selection.
With the Rangers in the middle of rebuilding, many have wondered if goaltender Henrik Lundqvist would be willing to stick around to see it through. Larry Brooks of the New York Post asked the veteran that very question and Lundqvist emphasized his commitment to the team:
“I’m committed to this. I know that this is going to be a test, how I handle the ups and downs, the growing and the mistakes. Not only me, but the players who have been here for a while and are not used to this. But I’m prepared for it. I’m embracing the challenge.”
The 36-year-old has been a mainstay for the Rangers since 2005-06 and while there may be a couple more rough years ahead (many expect them to be sellers once again by the trade deadline), Lundqvist appears to be ready to wait it out. He’s signed through the 2020-21 season with a cap hit of $8.5MM.
Elsewhere around the league:
- On the heels of Jonathan Quick’s knee surgery, the Kings do not plan to explore the trade market for a short-term replacement, reports Curtis Zupke of the LA Times (Twitter link), who adds that the typical recovery timeline for Quick’s injury is three-to-six weeks. While that isn’t a significant amount of time, Los Angeles is already sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference and if their struggles continue while Quick is out, they may find themselves too far outside of the postseason picture. In the meantime, they’ll turn to Jack Campbell and veteran Peter Budaj to hold down the fort in his absence.
- Canucks defenseman Chris Tanev is missing his fourth straight game on Wednesday and the team announced on Twitter that he’s doubtful to suit up on Friday as well due to a bruised hip. Head coach Travis Green is hopeful that Tanev will be able to travel with the team at the start of their upcoming road trip which gets underway November 6th in Detroit. Injuries have long been an issue for the 28-year-old as he has yet to surpass the 70-game mark in his career.
Another week is underway in the NHL and the Nashville Predators find themselves alone in first place with 14 points. Their +12 goal differential also leads the league, as they look to repeat as Presidents Trophy winners this year. While all the other teams around the league try to catch them, we’ll keep track of the minor moves made to get them a little closer.
- Marek Mazanec has been returned to the AHL by the New York Rangers, who have recalled Alexandar Georgiev in his stead. The goaltenders had been swapped to give Georgiev some playing time, and will likely continue to be flipped back and forth throughout the season. Georgiev has played just one NHL game this season and allowed seven goals, but is still expected to be the primary backup for Henrik Lundqvist.
- Troy Grosenick is on his way up to the Nashville Predators to serve as Juuse Saros’ backup, while the team has sent Miroslav Svoboda down to the minor leagues. Grosenick has a 3-0 record with the Milwaukee Admirals so far this season, and will come up to help Saros fill the skates of Pekka Rinne while he’s on the shelf.
- The Dallas Stars have recalled Justin Dowling, rewarding the minor league veteran for his strong early play in the minor leagues. Dowling hasn’t played an NHL game since the 2016-17 season, but is valuable depth for the organization given his strong offensive history in the AHL.
- Dylan Gambrell is back up with the San Jose Sharks, already his third recall of the young season. Sharks fans will remember the club doing a similar thing with Mirco Mueller in previous years, bouncing a player up and down throughout the year. It looks like Gambrell is that player this season, as he fights to establish himself as a full-time NHL option.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lot invested in their goaltender of the present and future in Matt Murray. You would think replacing Marc-Andre Fleury might be a challenging procedure, but Murray’s .923 save percentage in 49 games proved that the youngster was ready for the full-time role, one of the reasons why it wasn’t as hard to let Fleury go. However, last year’s struggles already has several fans worried about Murray’s long-term success.
Murray struggled with both injuries as well as the death of his father during the 2017-18 season in which he still played in 49 games, but didn’t fare as well, posting a .907 save percentage as well as a 2.92 GAA. However, Murray as well as the team’s other backups, Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry, have worked hard with goaltending coach Mike Buckley, who challenged each one of them, according to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Buckley feels that Murray has put too much pressure on himself to replace Fleury and needs to accept that he’s the “guy” now.
“The next step for him is to take it all in and enjoy it. ‘Hey, I’m the guy now. I can accept that. I don’t have to be Marc-Andre Fleury, but I can be tighter with my teammates and really open up to them.’” Buckley said.
Buckley added that Murray has worked hard on his conditioning and hopefully should be able to avoid injury, although some injuries like concussions are just unavoidable.
“In terms of how he takes care of his body, he’s meticulous,” Buckley said. “The problem is the things that you can’t control. A concussion, for example. Someone coming down and landing on you the wrong way. There’s really very little you can do about that.”
- Sam Carchidi of philly.com writes that Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall says that No. 1 center Sean Couturier will be “absolutely” 100 percent at the start of the season in October and is already ready to resume skating. Couturier, who was expected to miss four weeks on Aug. 22 with a lower-body injury, is coming off a career-best season in which he scored 31 goals and 76 points and was a key part to the Flyers’ late-season success on a line with Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny.
- Shayna Goldman of The Athletic (subscription required) writes that this will be a challenging season for New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who is coming off two poor seasons and now finds himself in the middle of a rebuilding project. Lundqvist has endured a very physical workload over the course of his career and didn’t get significant rest last season from then-head coach Alain Vigneault. One thing is imperative. The 36-year-old needs rest, which will be a key for new head coach David Quinn. The problem is that the team lacks an adequate backup as the no longer have either Cam Talbot or Antti Raanta serving behind him. The team now has a number of prospects, including Alexandar Georgiev, Dustin Tokarski and Marek Mazanec. However, unless one of them can step up, none seem likely to provide Lundqvist the kind of rest that he needs.
- With the possibility that the team could lose star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to another team when he hits free agency next season, the Columbus Blue Jackets are placing more emphasis on the future suddenly, according to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic (subscription required). While the team has their immediate goaltender of the future in their backup Joonas Korpisalo, the team is focusing their long-term hopes on Elvis Merzlikins, their third-round pick in 2014, who has been a dominant prospect for Lugano of the Swiss League. The 24-year-old has been one of the top goaltenders in the league, posting a .924 save percentage last year and is ready to come to North America next season.
Despite the vast improvements made by the St. Louis Blues this off-season, the common perception is that their fate still lies in the hands of goaltender Jake Allen. Last season, in the first of a new four-year, $17.4MM contract, Allen took a major step back. The 27-year-old had been a great success as a part-time goalie early in his career and looked like he was ready for full-time duty after the 2016-17 campaign, but was unable to handle the workload. Allen’s appearances actually dropped last season from 61 to 59 as backup Carter Hutton took over the starter’s job with consistent and impressive play. Allen posted a .906 save percentage and career-worst 2.75 GAA and failed to record a plus quality starts percentage. That has to change next season. As The Hockey News’ Jared Clinton writes, Allen is the key to St. Louis’ success (or failure) in 2018-19. With Hutton gone, replaced with journeyman Chad Johnson, the pressure is back on Allen to be the legitimate starter that he has shown flashes of. The Blues should be applauded for re-hauling their forward core this off-season, somehow managing to add Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Tyler Bozak, and Patrick Maroon without going over the salary cap. The team also continues to sport one of the deeper blue line’s in the league. However, they need consistent capable play out of Allen or it could be all for not. St. Louis has a contender’s roster if only they can get Allen back on track.
- Dallas Stars super-prospect Miro Heiskanen is all-in on making the team this season. The 19-year-old is just one year removed from being selected third overall in the NHL Draft and is ready to show that he was worth the selection. Stars beat writer Mark Stepenski reports that Heiskanen has already arrived in Dallas and has begun working out with teammates, including veteran leaders Jamie Benn and Ben Bishop. The young defenseman has worked hard this summer and is preparing to wow the Stars’ coaches and executives in training camp. For their part, the Stars’ decision-makers already believe that Heiskanen is ready, although they caution that there will be some adjustments to make and that expectations may be getting too high. Some have even stated that Heiskanen is a legitimate threat to No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres in the upcoming Calder Trophy race. They might not be too far off; like Dahlin, Heiskanen has two years of pro experience already, in the Finnish Liiga, and possess both elite skating ability and next-level awareness and positioning. With those skills already at a pro level, it might not be too difficult of a transition for Heiskanen after all.
- The New York Rangers not only lost captain Ryan McDonagh last season, but they also lost alternate Rick Nash and head coach Alain Vigneault. In speaking with new coach David Quinn, NHL.com’s Dan Rosen discovered that the freshman bench boss would like to get to know his locker room and see how the season begins before naming a new leader. Quinn said:
“We’ve talked about it as an organization. I think a captain emerges. You don’t want to put a burden on somebody that isn’t ready for it. So I think that will just happen one way or the other. It either will happen that someone will emerge and separate themselves as someone who is clearly going to be the captain, or it won’t happen. I think that will take care of itself.”
Frequent alternates Marc Staal or Jesper Fast could emerge as favorites, but neither jumps out as a spectacular candidate for captain. Long-time forward Mats Zuccarello also wore the “A” often, but one has to wonder if it would be worth giving the “C” to a player on an expiring contract who seems unlikely to earn an extension. The same could be said for top center Kevin Hayes. While it is uncommon, Quinn could lean towards awarding the captaincy to star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who Rosen writes he has already gotten to know very well. Young defenseman Brady Skjei, fresh off of a six-year extension this summer, appears to be the cornerstone of the Rangers’ rebuild and could emerge as a top candidate. As Quinn says, only time will tell.
Navigating the Salary Cap is probably one of the more important tasks for any general manager to have. Teams that can avert total cap chaos by walking the tightrope of inking players to deals that match their value (or compensate for future value without breaking the bank) remain successful. Those that don’t see struggles and front office changes.
PHR will look at every NHL team and give a thorough look at their cap situation heading into the 2018-19 season. This will focus more on those players who are integral parts of the roster versus those who may find themselves shuttling between the AHL and NHL. All cap figures are courtesy of CapFriendly.
Current Cap Hit: $73,823,569 (under the $79.5MM Upper Limit)
F Pavel Buchnevich (one year remaining, $925K)
D Neal Pionk (one year remaining, $925K)
F Lias Andersson (three years remaining, $894K)
F Filip Chytil (three years remaining, $894K)
D Anthony DeAngelo (one year remaining, $863K)
G Alexandar Georgiev (two years remaining, $793K)
With the team in quick rebuild mode, there are some entry-level deals already and if the team continues to trend in that direction, they will have quite a bit more. The team’s most prominent player at the NHL level to date would be Buchnevich, who improved on his rookie campaign with a 14-goal, 43-point season last year. He saw more ice time as well, improving from 13:16 ATOI to 15:01 as well as saw significant time on the team’s power play, potting five goals and 11 assists with the man advantage and has earned himself a solid spot in the team’s top-six. Another improved season could see him being an expensive restricted free agent.
The team has high expectations for their two 2017 first-rounders in Andersson and Chytil. Both have shown excellent skills and have received some time playing for the NHL with Andersson seeing seven games, while saw nine games. Both are expected to earn time with the Rangers out of training camp, but both may find themselves on bottom-six lines unless they can prove that they can center the second or third lines in training camp.
One Year Remaining, Non-Entry-Level
F Kevin Hayes ($5.18MM, UFA)
F Mats Zuccarello ($4.5MM, UFA)
D Rob O’Gara ($874K, RFA)
F Cody McLeod ($750K, UFA)
D Fredrik Claesson ($863K, RFA)
F Peter Holland ($675K, UFA)
D Steven Kampfer ($650K, UFA)
G Marek Mazanec ($650K, UFA)
The team agreed to a one-year deal with Hayes, avoiding arbitration, but now face the possibility that Hayes could walk away at the end of the season as he will be unrestricted, which will force the team into two possible directions, including attempting to work out a long-term deal with the team after Jan. 1, 2019, or trading him, possibly at the trading deadline if the two sides can’t agree on anything. Hayes, who has been a jack of all trades playing multiple positions, seems to have developed into a solid center as he produced his best season ever, which included 25 goals, eight more than any previous year. The question is, do the Rangers view him as a fixture in their lineup as they continue to rebuild?
At age 30, Zuccarrello still puts up solid numbers, but despite the high-end minutes that the veteran gets, he falls into a similar category to that of Hayes where you have to ask whether he is in the team’s long-term plans. The winger is penciled in to play on the team’s top line once again, but has only put up 31 goals over the past two seasons. He does produce quite a few assists (81 over the past two years), but what the Rangers need more than anything is goals. Zuccarello will also turn 32 before he begins his next contract and at that age, how long are the Rangers willing to commit to him?
Two Years Remaining
Kreider is coming off a tough year in which he had to deal with blood clots and had surgery to relieve the pressure and missed almost two months of time. The 27-year-old didn’t have as solid of a season as he tallied just 16 goals in 58 games, which is a far cry from the 28 goals he scored in 2016-17 although a lot of that is due to the fact that his playing time dipped as the team didn’t want to play him too many minutes due to the blood clot issue. Regardless with a full offseason to rest and recuperate, Kreider should be able to bounce back as one of the team’s top scorers.
The team also have high expectations from two other forwards that the team acquired through at the trade deadline a year ago in Namestnikov and Spooner. Namestnikov was the biggest name to arrive in New York in the Ryan McDonagh trade with Tampa Bay. He was a key player for the Lightning, posting 20 goals and 44 points with them, but he actually lost playing time once he arrived in New York and put up just two goals and four points in 19 games. The team hopes that a new coach and proper training camp with his new team will make quite a difference. Spooner came over in the Rick Nash trade with Boston and has posted solid numbers with the Bruins over the past few seasons and could turn out to be a top-six wing or third-line center in New York. Between the two teams, Spooner combined for 13 goals and 28 assists.
The team also expect big things from Vesey, who signed as a undrafted collegiate free agent a couple of years ago and if finally starting to show that he belongs in the NHL. The 25-year-old winger has put up solid numbers for two years, but could find himself getting more opportunities in the team’s rebuild. In two years, he’s combined for 33 goals and 55 points.
It was an uncommon year in the NHL with no coaches being fired in-season. Some of the worst teams in the NHL – the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, and Vancouver Canucks – had coaches in their first seasons and were willing to reserve judgement at least into a second season. Others, like the Ottawa Senators (confirmed today), Montreal Canadiens, and New York Islanders are willing to wait and see with relatively new staffs.
Entering the first full month without regular season activity, the season is over for all but eight teams. Yet, only two coaches have been fired: the New York Rangers’ Alain Vigneault and the Calgary Flames’ Glen Gulutzan. The Dallas Stars’ Ken Hitchcock retired and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Bill Peters opted out. Peters then quickly took the Flames job and what is left are just three coaching openings in the NHL.
The Carolina Hurricanes, under new ownership, are still looking for a GM and likely will wait to make a decision on a head coach until after that initial decision has been made. However, for those free agent coaches, the ’Canes do offer an attractive mix of long-term depth and talent on defense, youth and skill on offense, a solid prospect pipeline, and mass amounts of cap space to get better. However, Carolina lacks two of the hardest things to find in hockey: a legitimate starting goaltender and a bona fide #1 star center. Any coach who is excited about the team’s potential has to look at Peters’ inability to turn it into wins and wonder if the few pieces missing in Carolina are the most important ones.
It took a late season collapse for the Dallas Stars to miss the postseason this year. The team has three superstars in Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg and a handful of very good players behind them like goalie Ben Bishop, defensemen Marc Methot and Esa Lindell, and forwards Alexander Radulov and Radek Faksa. They also have the potential for a quick turnaround if Jason Spezza and Martin Hanzal can bounce back. Beyond that group though, the team is lacking in depth on the roster and there doesn’t appear to be real game-changing talent in the pipeline either outside of Miro Heiskanen. They’re also right at the top of the salary cap limit. The Stars have the appearance of a team that is close to being a contender, but may not be able to get much better than they already are.
The New York Rangers are this year’s rebuild option for a coaching candidate. After trading away both impending free agents and core players at the deadline, the Rangers are left with a young-top nine that bring energy and skill but lacks experience and top-end talent and defense corps with veteran leadership surrounded by youth and potential but also lacking any high-end ability. However, they still have an all-world goalie in Henrik Lundqvist and are now loaded with prospects at every position and a wealth of draft picks. The Rangers may not look like much now but have a lot to offer down the road.
Though earlier this season the New York Rangers ownership and front office explained to fans that they would be heading into a rebuilding process, Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t about to abandon ship. As Larry Brooks of the New York Post reports, Lundqvist was given the option of being traded at the deadline to a “good landing place” but quickly declined, saying that he wanted to “see it through.”
Lundqvist has three years remaining on his current contract, and is still playing at a high level. In 63 games this season he recorded a .915 save percentage, despite a weak defense corps that struggled to contain the opposition on a nightly basis. He will begin next season at age-36, meaning if he stays with the Rangers through the end of his contract it’s unlikely he’ll get another real opportunity at the Stanley Cup.
That prize has remained out of Lundqvist’s grasp for his entire career, despite plenty of success at the international level and during the regular season. With Olympic and World Championship gold (and silver) medals, a Vezina trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender, two SHL Championships and 11 playoff appearances in 13 NHL seasons, he’s a proven winner and likely Hall of Fame inductee when he finally retires. If the Rangers are committed to a real rebuild though, the chances of a second Stanley Cup Finals appearance are relatively small.
The question then becomes whether a real “rebuild” is in order in New York. That term usually brings about finishes near the bottom of the standings for several years, using draft picks to slowly improve the team’s prospect pipeline until it is ready to contend again. It often takes five or more years to complete, though there are obviously outliers on both sides. The Rangers though seem poised to compete for the playoffs much sooner. After trading off assets like Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller in the last calendar year, they find themselves flush with high end prospects ready to make an impact at the NHL level before long.
The idea that a core built around players like Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren—not to mention the three first-round picks the team owns in the upcoming draft—could be ready to compete for the Stanley Cup in the next three years isn’t out of the question. With other relatively young talents like Brady Skjei, Mika Zibanejad and Vladislav Namestnikov still on the roster, the Rangers could be in for a quick bounce back. If Lundqvist can stay healthy, and remain an above-average goaltender in the NHL there could be a chance to have one or two more playoff appearances. If that’s what he means by “see it through,” Rangers fans should be happy he stuck around.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
Canucks prospect Elias Pettersson is likely to play on the wing to start next season if he makes the NHL roster, GM Jim Benning acknowledged to Postmedia’s Ben Kuzma. Pettersson, a natural center, spent most of this past season on the wing so it’s hard to foresee him switching back to the tougher position while trying to get used to playing at the NHL level. Accordingly, Kuzma speculates that Vancouver could be in the market this offseason for a veteran on a short-term deal that could act as a bridge for players like Pettersson and Adam Gaudette to allow them to ease into NHL duty.
Elsewhere around the league:
- Golden Knights center Erik Haula will not face a disciplinary hearing for an incident involving Kings center Anze Kopitar on Sunday, notes Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. After being knocked down, Haula hit Kopitar in the face with what appeared to have been the butt-end of his stick but a league spokesman stated that there were no plans to review the play. That means that Haula will be available as Vegas goes for the first round sweep on Tuesday night.
- Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has declined an invitation to join Team Sweden for the upcoming World Championships, notes Larry Brooks of the New York Post. The veteran has been battling a knee issue that was initially sustained last year in that tournament although he still played in 63 games for New York this season. Brooks reports that Lundqvist will receive platelet-rich plasma treatment and will rest for around the next three weeks before kicking off his offseason training routine.