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.
The NHL released their Three Stars of the Week earlier today, and to absolutely no one’s surprise Alex Ovechkin received the top honors. Ovechkin recorded back-to-back hat tricks last week and seven goals total in his three games, giving him 29 on the season. That puts him on a pace for a career-high, something unthinkable for the 33-year old winger. Ovechkin now has 636 career tallies, and should challenge some of the all-time leaders in the category before he’s finished.
While Ovechkin is racking up his usual accolades, two young centers are trying to carve out their own legacies in the NHL. Mark Scheifele and Jack Eichel were second and third stars respectively, after outstanding weeks. Scheifele especially was a dominant offensive presence, recording 11 points in just four games for the Winnipeg Jets including two overtime winners.
- Pekka Rinne was expecting retirement after the 2018-19 season. That’s what the goaltender told Alex Prewitt in his latest profile for Sports Illustrated. The Nashville Predators goaltender believed that he would sail off into the sunset after his current seven-year $49MM deal expired at the end of this year, but that all changed when he inked a new two-year extension in November. Rinne is still playing at an incredible level, and going into tonight led the league with a .929 save percentage and 1.96 goals against average. That puts him in prime position to challenge for the Vezina Trophy once again, an award he took home last season after previously finishing as a finalist three times.
- Mathew Dumba is off to an exceptional start for the Minnesota Wild, with 12 goals and 22 points in just 32 games. The right-handed defenseman also doesn’t shy away from the physical side of the game, as seen this weekend when he took on Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames in a round of fisticuffs. Unfortunately, Dumba will now be out for at least a week with an upper-body injury. Head coach Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t give much more information on the subject, but did note that it’s not necessarily the worst timing for the team given the holiday break that they’ll enjoy next week.
The Nashville Predators have succeeded this year based on the play of Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne’s play. While Rinne has posted a 14-5-1 record, a 1.96 GAA and a .929 save percentage, his backup Juuse Saros, who many felt might share net responsibilities with the 36-year-old Rinne this year, hasn’t fared nearly as well with an 8-5 record, a 3.14 GAA and a .893 save percentage.
However, while Saros’ numbers suggest that he’s struggling this season, head coach Peter Laviolette said Saturday that he believes that the team isn’t playing well when the 23-year-old is in net, according to The Athletic’s Adam Vingan (subscription required).
“I’m going to be perfectly honest. I think that we’ve played lousy in front of (Saros),” Laviolette said. “There’s got to be accountability to the 18 guys that go out in front of him. Just too many odd-man rushes, too many point-blank chances, and that’s got to stop. And when that stops, he’s going to feel better and look better in there. There’s just too much coming at him.”
While Vingan writes that there is some truth to the comment as the team has had some of their worst defensive showings with Saros in net, including losses to San Jose on Nov. 13, to St. Louis on Nov. 23 and Calgary on Dec. 8. However, when looking even deeper, Vingan notes that both goalies have faced the same number of quality shots per game and it’s just Rinne’s amazing play that has separated the two goaltenders.
- Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos suggested (via The Athletic’s Adam Vingan)that the unknown injury that Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban is dealing with has nothing to do with the suspected back injury that he dealt with two years ago. Subban has missed 15 games this year with the undisclosed injury, but Kypreos said that Subban could be out for a bit longer. “It’s a real conservative approach by Nashville to keep him out. They think a 50-plus (game) regular season for P.K. could benefit him,” Kypreos said Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada.
- Lou Korac of NHL.com writes that oft-injured forward Robby Fabbri said he still should have a better idea around Christmas of his timetable of returning from his separated shoulder injury. “We’re just taking it day by day. I’m listening to the shoulder. What I do that day depends on how I wake up feeling and how I felt from the day before.”
- Jon Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that while he’s not playing today, Chicago Blackhawks forward Artem Anisimov is close to returning to action. The 30-year-old should be eligible to be activated off IR before Tuesday’s game as he continues his recovery from a concussion suffered by a hit from Montreal’s Shea Weber on Dec. 9. “He looks like he’s closer to coming back, so hopefully he can,” coach Jeremy Colliton said at the morning skate. “I haven’t heard that he’s ready-ready, but we think he’s not far away.”
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 Nashville Predators. Click here for the other articles in this series.
What are the Predators most thankful for?
Depth scoring. One of the big strengths the team has is their depth scoring as they have solid lines throughout and scoring seems evenly distributed. Scoring is not an issue as the team averages 3.19 goals per game. The team is ranked 12th in scoring and while only one player has more than 10 goals this season (Filip Forsberg with 14), the team has 12 players with at least five goals and a handful of depth, but quality players who are producing offense, including Craig Smith, Ryan Hartman, Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok and Austin Watson just to name a few. With so much in the tank, the team should be well rested when the playoffs approach.
Who are the Predators most thankful for?
Many people believed that while goalie Pekka Rinne was coming off a Vezina Trophy-winning season last year, there might be a decline in the veteran’s play after a disappointing playoffs and the fact that the goaltender is 36 years old and cannot be expected to keep up those numbers forever. Fortunately for Predators’ fans, Rinne has been outstanding once again as despite missing some time with an injury early in the season, he has amassed a 1.96 GAA in 22 games with a .929 save percentage.
Others felt that Rinne might slowly lose his job to goalie-in-waiting Juuse Saros, but so far that hasn’t been the case. The team has been using Rinne quite often and rely on him for the big games. Saros has appeared in just 13 games this season, many of which came during the time that Rinne missed due to injury.
What would the Predators be even more thankful for?
Despite their success due to their depth players, the team has to hope that they can get some of their top players back from injury. The team’s top goal scorer is Forsberg, but the winger has been out with for more than two weeks and could be out for double that with an upper-body injury. The team hopes to get defenseman P.K. Subban back soon, who has missed a large chunk of the season with an unknown injury, while Viktor Arvidsson has also missed quite a bit of time to injury as well. If the team could get healthy, they may have a chance to fare even better in the Central Division, even though they are just one point out of first place.
What should be on the Predators’ Holiday Wish List?
The continued development of Eeli Tolvanen. The team had high hopes when they brought Tolvanen over from the KHL at the age of 19. He’s immensely talented and showed some of those skills off in a brief callup when he tallied a goal and an assist in four games while filling in for several of the team’s significant injuries. That, of course, couldn’t last and he was immediately sent down after Kyle Turris returned off the IR. Many people want Tolvanen to remain with the team, but in reality it’s a waste to play him few minutes in Nashville on a bottom-six line. Until he can outplay someone on the top-six, he needs to spend as much playing time as possible in the AHL until his skills can surpass one of their top players.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
With the recent re-signing of goaltender Pekka Rinne to a new extension with a no-movement clause, the Nashville Predators are likely to be heavily scouted over the next couple of years by the Seattle expansion team, who are expected to have their own expansion draft in 2020, assuming everything goes as planned. If that’s the case, then the Predators might be forced to expose young goaltender Juuse Saros in the expansion draft if they can’t convince Rinne to waive his NMC.
In a mailbag series, The Athletic’s Adam Vingan (subscription required) writes that with the expansion rules expected to be the same as Vegas, the Predators will likely be expected to protect all four of their top defensemen (assuming Roman Josi agrees to an extension), which might limit the amount of forwards they can protect down the road, suggesting that Seattle will either get a top-rated goaltender (in Saros or a willing Rinne) or receive a top-end forward to jumpstart their new franchise.
- Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad has had a rough go of it this week in practice. He took a puck to the face in practice Wednesday that required a lengthy trip to the dentist, according to Scott Powers of The Athletic (subscription required). Now, Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that Saad then injured his arm in practice Friday, forcing him to miss today’s game and he is considered day-to-day for Monday’s game at Carolina.
- Sticking with the Blackhawks, Lazerus also points out that new head coach Jeremy Colliton has already pressed Patrick Kane into a big role. Already the biggest leader in minutes on the forward line, Kane played the most he’s ever played in a regular-season game, a record 27:43 Thursday against Carolina. He followed that up with 24:33 against Philadelphia Saturday. “It’s fun,” Kane said. “It’s always fun coming back to the bench after a shift and hearing your name called up for the next shift to go out. It’s exciting. I like it, it gets me into the game, too. I’ve actually been trying to figure out how to get that excitement and energy into my game in the first and second period, because there’s some crazy stats where I’ve got way more goals this year in the third period than any other period.”
- It looks like St. Louis Blues center Brayden Schenn will miss his third-straight game Sunday with what is believed to be a strained oblique muscle, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He did practice Saturday, suggesting he’s getting closer to a return. “I would say that he’s doubtful for tomorrow, but encouraging that he’s getting closer,” coach Mike Yeo said. “He looked good in practice today. I talked to him afterward. We just have to make sure we’re smart.”
- The Minnesota Wild’s Nino Niederreiter finally broke a 27-goal scoring streak Thursday when he scored his first goal of the season and was quick to point out that staying positive was the most challenging thing for him while waiting out that streak. He said the mental challenges were taxing on him and his play, according to the StarTribune’s Sarah McLellan. “That’s the toughest thing, staying positive in those moments,” Niederreiter said. “But it makes it a lot easier that we’ve been doing well, and as long as the team is winning, it makes it a lot easier. But it was definitely frustrating at some points.”
Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog has made quite a name for himself as he currently is tied for the NHL lead in goals scored with 11. That’s quite a feat for a player, who has averaged 20 goals a season for the past seven seasons, a number he could surpass before Thanksgiving. Regardless, Landeskog says most of his success comes from a combination of playing with the top line of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, as well as his growing skills and confidence on the ice, according to Sean Keeler of the Denver Post.
“It’s just a combination of luck and hard work and confidence, and being in the right place at the right time,” Landeskog said. “I think, right now, I don’t think there’s a reason maybe other than our line’s played really well and has been able to create some scoring chances. Together with those two guys, yeah, I’ve been able to put some in the back of the net.”
While Landeskog’s game could easily drop back to earth at any time, many feel that the 25-year-old, a former second-overall pick back in 2011, may just have finally found his game.
“I think he’s worked on (his shooting), he’s worked on his touch around the net,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “He’s getting into those areas more, and he’s coming up with rebounds and loose pucks. And part of that is his teammates being able to move the puck into those areas on a more consistent basis.”
- The Athletic’s Adam Vingan reports that one potential problem that could come with Pekka Rinne’s new two-year extension that he signed earlier today would be that there could be some expansion ramifications for the Nashville Predators. The scribe notes that since Rinne will have the same no-movement clause in his next contract, the Predators could be forced to protect Rinne and have to expose Juuse Saros to the Seattle expansion franchise in a couple of years. However, Rinne could opt to waive the no-movement clause as well and allow himself to be taken by Seattle like Marc-Andre Fleury did in Pittsburgh. Regardless, it’s too early to speculate, especially since the Seattle team hasn’t been formally approved.
- After being scratched Thursday night, Chicago Blackhawks center Nick Schmaltz feels that he has learned his lesson after picking up just one assist in the last five games, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus. “I don’t think I was playing as good as I can — especially in Vancouver, I didn’t think I had a very good game,” said Schmaltz. “Take it as a learning lesson and move on from it and make sure that I’m playing to stick in the lineup every night.”
The Nashville Predators announced they have signed Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Pekka Rinne to a two-year, $10MM contract extension (35+ contract). He will receive $6MM for the 2019-20 season and then $4MM for the 2020-21 season. Rinne is the team’s all-time leader in wins (315) and shutouts (52).
“Pekka Rinne has been the most impactful player our franchise has ever had, both on the ice as one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, and off the ice as a leader in the community,” Predators general manager David Poile said. “Both the organization and Pekka want him to play his entire career with the Predators, and this helps accomplish that objective, while also stabilizing our goaltending for at least the next two seasons beyond 2018-19. We feel the tandem of Pekka and Juuse Saros is among the best in the League.”
Rinne had the best season of his career in 2017-18, winning his first Vezina Trophy award, given to the league’s best goaltender. The then 35-year-old posted 42 wins, a 2.31 GAA and a .927 save percentage. Currently, despite missing some time with an injury, Rinne is still putting up solid numbers as he has a 1.91 GAA and a .944 save percentage in six appearances. Rinne is finishing up a seven-year, $49MM deal at $7MM per year. The new contract will see his AAV decline to $5MM per season. The Athletic’s Adam Vingan reports that Rinne will continue to have a no-trade clause and a modified no-movement clause on his deal with the same restrictions that he had on his previous deal, including a 10-team trade list.
The two-year deal makes sense for the Predators, although it had been looking more and more that the team has a future goaltender in Saros who is likely ready to take the reigns as starting goaltender now. Saros recently filled in as starter when Rinne went down and has six wins, a 2.50 GAA and a .917 save percentage in eight appearances. However, with both under contract for two more years after this one, the team should have one of the best goaltending tandems in the league. The most impressive part is that they will have both goaltenders at a combined $6.5MM for the next two seasons, a significant bargain, considering the kind of money that many goaltenders have been getting recently.
The extension also takes away some of the intrigue of the 2019 goaltending free agent market which would have starred Rinne, Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov, among others. Rinne gets a double bonus today as he gets his extension on his birthday as the goaltender turned 36 today. Coincidentally, Rinne also signed his last seven-year deal with Nashville on his birthday seven years ago today.
The Nashville Predators are finally whole in net, as today they’ve activated Pekka Rinne from injured reserve and assigned Troy Grosenick back to the minor leagues. Rinne had been out for ten days following a collision with teammate Kevin Fiala. He’ll now return to one of the best goaltending tandems in the league alongside young Juuse Saros.
Rinne, who turns 36 in just a few days, is one of the most interesting names to keep an eye on around the league. As Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic writes (subscription required), negotiations between the Predators and their franchise goaltender continue on a contract extension, though there doesn’t seem to be anything imminent. Rinne has been one of the best goaltenders in the league for more than a decade, ending as a Calder finalist after finally making the jump to start for Nashville at the age of 25. Though there have been lean times throughout his Predators career, the reigning Vezina trophy winner has a .919 save percentage in close to 600 regular season games and was a huge reason why Nashville reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017.
Still, having Saros ready to take over the job creates a dilemma for the Predators. In his limited career, the 23-year old netminder has been an outstanding backup for Rinne, posting a .922 save percentage over 56 games. There’s a school of thought that suggests he may even be better right now than his mentor and partner, and the fact that he’s signed to a three-year deal worth just a total of $4.5MM makes him one of the most attractive assets in the league. Imagine paying a top-tier starting goaltender just $1.5MM per season while in a Stanley Cup contention window.
That contract though is what makes the negotiation with Rinne so interesting. Even if they dial back his work and turn the duo into more of a straight tandem, the Predators could likely afford to pay Rinne a hefty sum to keep him there through the end of his career. Having one of their franchise icons remain on the roster as they try to bring home that elusive chalice is tempting, and may lead to an extension before the season is out. If not, Rinne would have plenty of suitors willing to give him one last multi-year deal to see if he can push them over the top, especially if he continues to play at such a high level now that he’s back from injury.
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.