slow start

Underachieving NHL teams: Off to a slow start, eh?

It is typical at times for a perceived great team to get off to a surprisingly slow start. It’s tough to judge a team just 8-10 games in, but you would like to see positive signs moving forward.

Montreal, Edmonton and New York (Rangers) are three of the five bottom teams in the league at the moment. The only team with a worse record (as of Oct. 26) is the Arizona Coyotes (0-8-1). All three of these teams finished with over 100 points last season.

This is a small sample size. However, after a long offseason, teams are typically high on new energy at the start of the year. Moreover, the points you deposit in October are worth the same as the points put in the bank in March. Ask the Canadiens of last year. Montreal started the season 13-1-1, played .500 hockey the next 43 games (18-18-7), and still captured a division title finishing 47-26-9.

Every team hits a lull, or multiple lulls over the course of a season. A hot start isn’t 100 percent crucial to a successful season, but it is your first imprint on the year. It’s the first building block. Your season can be made or broken based off of how it starts. It’s very early again, but what’s going on with three of the league’s current bottom feeders?

off and walking habs

underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Habs began their season with a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. They then proceeded to lose their next seven. Montreal ended that skid Tuesday night with a 5-1 win over a Roberto Luongo-less Florida squad. The team is giving up close to four goals a game and both net minders (Price and Montoya) have save percentages under .900.

The Canadiens are a team that depends on their goaltending heavily having arguably the best in the league in Carey Price. The 2015-16 season saw them skate to a 10-2-0 record with Price in the net and a 4-15-1 record the next 20 after his injury. Thirty-seven of their 47 victories last season came with Price manning the crease. The pressure on Price is huge because they only possess one player (Max Pacioretty) that had over 20 or more goals for them last season.

Montreal is scoring less than two goals a game. They are averaging over 38 shots a game lacking finish. The Habs have the eighth worst power play at just under 14 percent in a year where special teams is ruling with the amount of penalties being called. It’s just not clicking for the Canadiens nine games into their season.

We could see a flip of the script of last year where Montreal could trend upward after October instead. There are 73 games remaining. It’s simply a slow start for the Habs.

Not Much Fuel early For the Well-Oiled Machine

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The curious case of the not so well-oiled machine at the moment is concerning. Edmonton has won only two of their first eight games. Connor McDavid is still doing Connor McDavid things (nine points). However, the depth along with the stellar goaltending from Cam Talbot isn’t showing up currently.

Edmonton is giving up an even three goals a game after giving up 1.89 per game through eight games last season. They needed everything and more from their starter Cam Talbot last year. The 30-year old played in 73 of the 82 games. It started with him as the Oilers let up the eighth fewest goals of any team. They’re going to need Talbot to be who he was last year and maybe more if the offense doesn’t pick up.

The league MVP is obviously the catalyst for everything that goes on offensively for the Oilers. However, to be successful and a true contender, you need production from all four lines. The 2016-17 season saw Edmonton possess five 20+ goal scorers, four 50+ point getters and one fourth liner (Mark Letestu) net 16 goals. McDavid can turn this team around in a hurry as they have almost everyone from a year ago minus Jordan Eberle.

Great teams sometimes suffer when they are aware of the talent they have. This can be seen at times with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA regular season. They get bored occasionally. However, the Oilers have no excuse having just made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years despite having the second best preseason Cup odds at 10-1. They haven’t won or proven anything yet.

broadway at a standstill

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Rangers have played in 10 games so far this season and have come away victorious twice. However, they have shown the most positive signs of improvement statistically of the other two teams. New York has been in three one-goal games, averaging 2.50 goals per game, and converting on close to 20 percent of their power plays.

The Blue Shirts’ defense is centered around Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh after an offseason trade with Arizona and free agency. They traded Antti Raanta (backup goalie) and Derek Stepan (key bottom six depth player).

Their new backup (Ondrej Pavelec) is 0-2 and has given up six goals in 96 minutes of action. The penalty kill (manned by much of the bottom six) sits at 23rd in the league at 77.8 percent. The new defensive core is a combined -11.

New York finished ninth overall in the league last year with 102 points. They captured a series win over Montreal and took Ottawa to six games who was one goal away from reaching the Finals. The Rangers organization then presumed a few tweaks were needed to take the next step. Sometimes that’s valid and other times it isn’t the case at all.

This could be nothing like the previous two teams discussed. Hopefully (for the front office) this will be a footnote to the next 72 games for the Rangers.

No time to worry

There are new faces up and down a roster coming into the year. Chemistry and figuring out how to play with one another is crucial. Some teams learn faster than others and there is no way to project where these particular teams will be in the standings later on in the season.

The key is to have a short memory and always be in the right frame of mind. Each of these hockey clubs believe they can win with the personnel they possess.

The longest losing streak for the Stanley Cup winning Penguins last year was four. Therefore, the seven game losing streak by the Habs is alarming. The league worst 15 goals that the Oilers have registered in their eight games is concerning. The lack of cohesion from the new-look Rangers is also worrisome. However, they can’t look back.

Will these teams get it together sooner rather than later?

 

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Grades for the latest NHL trades

Browsing social media this week, hockey fans were champing at the bit for newsworthy NHL trades. There were minor deals as the expansion draft passed, and the suspense only grew as the NHL Draft approached.

It’s safe to say that the fans got their wishes.

The past two days have featured former first round picks, backup goaltenders and Stanley Cup champions. If that wasn’t enough, there are likely more coming even before free agency hits on July 1. Until that happens, let’s analyze the top NHL trades that went down before the draft.

Golden Knights ship Trevor van Riemsdyk to Hurricanes

Trevor’s time in Vegas was short-lived, as the expansion team acquired a 2017 second round pick for trading him and a 2018 seventh round selection.

van Riemsdyk is a young asset heading to a younger team. One needs perspective when analyzing his season. He missed time with an upper-body injury which underscored his stats. Still, he was +17 with 100 blocks and 16 points in 58 games.

The former Blackhawk joins three former teammates in Teuvo Teravainen, Joakim Nordstrom and Scott Darling. Perhaps that can help his transition. He’s a capable right-handed shot that helps Carolina get younger and faster. Vegas adds another high draft pick to build their team.

Grade: B+ for Carolina, B for Vegas

Oilers and Islanders swap Jordan Eberle and Ryan Strome

Jordan Eberle was the first of what Isles fans hope to be more NHL trades.

Jordan Eberle heads to the Big Apple. Photo by Andy Devlin, NHLI via Getty Images.

New York getting Eberle long seemed inevitable, but it was intriguing how it occurred. It was a one-for-one swap after many reports had Edmonton seeking a prospect or draft picks.

This was an excellent move from Isles general manager Garth Snow. He paid a heavy price in a first-rounder to prevent Vegas from taking a number of players, and it essentially means they traded it for Eberle.

The former first-round pick disappointed with the Oilers after scoring just 51 points. Pairing with his world championship teammate, John Tavares should boost his input and give Tavares confidence to sign in New York long-term.

As for Edmonton, this was a move that helps more for cap than on-ice skill. They ship $6 million on Eberle’s contract, which helped them extend defenseman Kris Russell. It also increases cap space for when Hart winner Connor McDavid needs a new deal.

As for Strome, he didn’t live up to his fifth overall selection with just one 50-point campaign in four years. He could benefit from a new environment, but on the ice, the Oilers don’t benefit as much. Edmonton could’ve received more for Eberle, it seemed.

Grade: A for New York, B- for Edmonton

Canadiens bring in David Schlemko from Golden Knights

Vegas sends out another expansion draft pick for a 2019 pick. This was a minor move from both sides, which didn’t have to give up much.

Montreal needed defensive help after shipping prospect Mikhail Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu. In Schlemko, they get a blue liner with back-to-back double-digit point seasons. The 30-year-old vet had 112 blocks and a 53.6 percent Corsi rating. It’s not a major step forward; he hasn’t played a full season. If he’s healthy, he helps.

Grade: B for Montreal, INC for Vegas with draft pick too far away to judge

Niklas Hjalmarsson moves from Blackhawks to the Coyotes

Niklas Hjalmarsson's move to Arizona ignited the flurry of NHL trades.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is headed to the Coyotes. Photo by Matt Marton, AP.

This is when the NHL trades started to boil. Chicago sent their 10-year defenseman to Arizona for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.

Even though Arizona’s front office is in a tenuous phase, they still took a big swing for a three-time Stanley Cup winner. He logged over 20 minutes per game in the past six seasons and had a career-high 181 blocks last season. He has excellent size, moves the puck well and can anchor the Coyotes’ blue line for a few more years.

As for Chicago, let’s just say fans were not happy about the news. They lose a strong core of their championship teams to relieve their cap.

Murphy is the better piece in the return deal, but he’s not as skilled as Hjalmarsson defensively. He’s 6-foot-4 and more lauded for his skating ability. The 2011 first-round pick can develop well under new assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. How well he does dictates if this gamble pays off for Chicago.

Grade: A- for Arizona, C+ for Chicago with chance to work out better

Brandon Saad returns to Midway while Artemi Panarin heads to Columbus

Chicago wasn’t finished. In fact, they dropped a bomb on the NHL with this move. Saad returns to the Blackhawks along with goalie Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-rounder. The Blue Jackets receive Panarin as well as forward Tyler Motte and a sixth round pick in today’s draft.

This is a slam dunk for Columbus. They receive a Calder Award winner with consecutive 30-goal seasons. He’s dominant on the power play and adds a versatile offensive game to a team that can use it. His contract runs for two more years at $6 million, about the same as Saad.

The decision-making behind this for Chicago stems from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Panarin’s next contract would cost too much for Chicago based on their contracts. Plus, Saad was impressive playing on Toews’s line for two Stanley Cups.

Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus made a good point yesterday: Toews could regain his success with Saad while Kane will still produce without Panarin.

The Blackhawks have turned their team around to keep themselves atop the Western Conference. They have the chance to do that after these trades, but it’s a gamble. Columbus should get a productive Panarin, but it remains to be seen if he can contribute just as much without Kane. Each trade has its risks, but this is a balanced trade on both sides.

Grade: A- for Columbus and Chicago

Rangers dispatch Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan to Coyotes

Arizona continued to wheel and deal yesterday when they snagged their new starting goalie and a top-six forward. In exchange, young blue liner Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick, which the Rangers used to pick center Lias Andersson.

As written last week, Raanta was a name to watch in the expansion draft. When Vegas didn’t select him, Arizona was salivating. The Blueshirts’ netminder enjoyed a career season. He deserves the chance to nab the starting job.

As for Stepan, his contract was steep for New York and he’s automatically the Coyotes’ most expensive player. He’s also the best center now, recording four straight 50-point campaigns. Stepan also helps on the power play that ranked 26th last season in the desert. This was a high-upside trade that fills multiple roles. Now, about finding a head coach…

Meanwhile, New York gets younger on defense with DeAngelo. He’s just 21 years old with an offensive acumen, notching 14 points in 39 games for the Coyotes. DeAngelo is undersized and will have to improve defensively to crack the Rangers’ lineup. Andersson’s play will determine how this trade shakes out for New York. He comes from the elite HV71 in Sweden. While his skating, versatility and defense are superb, he didn’t stuff the scoresheet with 19 points in 42 league games.

Grade: A for Arizona (not just for the alphabet), B- for New York

Blue Jackets and Wild exchange forwards

Rounding out yesterday’s pre-draft NHL trades came with a small move for both teams. Dante Salituro heads to Minnesota while Jordan Schroeder goes the other way.

The 20-year-old Salituro provides goal scoring ability from a 5-foot-8 frame. He impressed in training camp and signed a three-year, two-way contract with Columbus last July. In 295 games across five OHL seasons, he tallied 122 goals and 160 assists. He won’t arrive in the Twin Cities anytime soon, but he has potential.

Schroeder is another small forward but is six years older. With the Wild this year, Schroeder scored six times for 13 points in 37 games. At 5-foot-9, he has to overcome his size. But on the ice, he has the instincts to maintain a roster spot.

Grade: B for Minnesota, C for Columbus

Blues snag Brayden Schenn from Flyer to shed Jori Lehtera

While yesterday trade hype built in the afternoon, it was quiet for most of the draft. There was a minor Blackhawks-Stars trade, but St. Louis and Philadelphia broke the silence. Schenn heads to the Blues by himself while Philly acquired Lehtera, the 27th overall pick (used on Morgan Frost) and a future conditional first-round pick. Elliotte Friedman breaks down the conditional pick.

The Blues upgrade with a more bona fide scorer in Schenn, who has 82 goals in the past three seasons. Lehtera is a great facilitator, but Schenn is an upgrade and Lehtera is making a lot of cash. The negatives for St. Louis is the possible price. They went back into the first round by trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, so the 27th doesn’t hurt. Two possible first-round picks can be a steep price.

Philadelphia can use Lehtera for depth as they ease new draft pick Nolan Patrick into the team. Frost provides speed and special teams abilities down the middle too. It seems the Flyers are prioritizing playmakers that can move the puck. Depending on where the conditional pick winds up, they can add even more pieces.

They have to replace Schenn’s production. Will they give Patrick the chance? Those two questions are the risks for Philadelphia at the moment, but ones that have quick solutions for a team on the rise.

Grade: B for St. Louis, B+ for Philadelphia

The Final Trade

As for Reaves heading to Pittsburgh, it’s icing on the cake for the Metro division. Reaves is an aggressive player that was 10th last season in hits. The Penguins love those types of players. He should perform well there as the division improves exponentially.

 

Feature image of Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman by Anthony Souffle of the Chicago Tribune

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Five NHL Expansion Draft names to watch

The dust in the Nevada desert has settled, but not for long. A suspenseful weekend consisted of a few trades before the NHL’s roster freeze before the NHL unveiled the lists of 30 teams’ protected players for Wednesday’s expansion draft.

There are plenty of unsurprising names for the Vegas Golden Knights to collect, and a few that no one expected to show up. As the clock begins to tick for George McPhee and Vegas, the suspense around the NHL hasn’t wavered. The Golden Knights’ general manager can still negotiate deals on unprotected players in exchange for draft picks.

While we won’t know until draft day what those deals will be, there are plenty of names to keep an eye on as it gets closer. All players listed are available as of June 18. Here are five important names to watch in the expansion draft.

Red Wings G Petr Mrazek

The Red Wings netminder is without a doubt the most surprising name left off of a protect list. Many hypothesized a Marc-Andre Fleury-Jimmy Howard tandem in Sin City. However, Detroit opted for the veteran Howard over the younger Mrazek.

The 25-year-old carries a meager $4 million cap hit for next season. He performed admirably as the Red Wings’ starter in 2015-2016, compiling a 27-16-6 record.

General Manager Ken Holland may have a short-term memory, though. Mrazek struggled last season, allowing three goals a game and stopping just 90 percent of his shots. Howard, on the other hand, posted a respectable 2.10 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

Vegas already had a delectable pallet of goalies to choose from in Fleury, Antti Raanta, Philipp Grubauer and Calvin Pickard. Add Mrazek to that list as a younger option for Vegas.

Islanders GM Garth Snow

NHL expansion draft

Islanders GM Garth Snow. Photo courtesy of CBS New York/Photo by Andy Marlin, Getty Images

Snow isn’t a player, and he isn’t on the move, even if some Islanders fans want to see that. Despite that, he’s likely the general manager to observe the most in this process.

The Islanders were the only team to shield three forwards and five defensemen using the eight-skater option. In doing so, they left interesting forwards and an intriguing defenseman up for grabs.

Brock Nelson has had three consecutive 20-goal seasons while Josh Bailey had 56 points on the top line. On the blue line, Calvin de Haan chipped in 25 points, blocked 190 shots, fourth-most in the NHL, and has averaged 20 minutes of ice time in his career.

Snow couldn’t protect all of those players, but he unexpectedly chose to protect Adam Pelech over de Haan and Nelson. Pelech logged valuable minutes under now permanent head coach Doug Weight. It’s also possible that the Isles could send picks to Vegas to have a player protected.

Nonetheless, the Islanders have playoff expectations next season. Snow will have eyes on him to see who could, or could not, end up going to Vegas.

Panthers C Jonathan Marchessault

There were reports earlier last weekend that Marchessault was on the block. Still, it was shocking to see his name available for discussion.

The 26-year-old Quebec native has improved upon each year. He exploded for a team-high 30 goals last season. Eighteen of his 51 points came on the power play. For a team that was 23rd last year in scoring, exposing your best goal scorer is risky. Pair that with his stick handling and his knack for creating his own shot, and it’s incredible he was left off.

There’s always the possibility that Florida works out a trade with Vegas. The Golden Knights could use the leverage to acquire the 10th overall pick. If McPhee doesn’t, they can just scoop Marchessault in the expansion draft. Vegas has the upper hand in this scenario, and they benefit from wherever Marchessault winds up.

Senators RW Bobby Ryan

In the big picture, Bobby Ryan’s availability is not that shocking. Ottawa went 7-3-1 in their order, which was necessary when Dion Phaneuf didn’t waive his no-movement clause. The Senators had to expose a forward and a defenseman, and Ryan was an easy target.

The question is if his stellar postseason entices Vegas. The 30-year-old right winger had a career-low 25 points in the regular season. He responded with several clutch playoff goals, finishing with six tallies and 15 points. His shot looked much better and he meshed well with his teammates. Ottawa doesn’t escape the first round without him.

With that in mind, will Ryan have that much value to Vegas? Overall, he seems on the decline. But, he is a former second overall pick and showed there’s still something left in the tank. Ultimately it comes down to whom on Ottawa’s available list entices McPhee more.

Many linked defenseman Marc Methot to the expansion draft if Ottawa went 7-3-1. With the useful options up front, Methot has more value for Vegas than Ryan. However, what happens here shows where Ryan’s current value is right not.

Rangers G Antti Raanta

NHL expansion draft

Rangers goalie Antti Raanta. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

As mentioned before, this is a deep expansion draft for goaltenders. With Fleury likely headed to the Strip, Vegas can use the other two spots for a younger netminder and a dependable veteran. Of the goalies in the latter category, Raanta has the most value for Vegas.

The Rangers have had a knack for finding backup goaltenders in the past few years. Cam Talbot flourished and now starts between the pipes for Edmonton. Raanta has almost done the same, posting a 16-8-2 record backing up Henrik Lundqvist. His minutes spiked and he stopped over 700 shots in 30 games.

Raanta is a solid backup for the Blueshirts, and the Rangers would have to figure out an alternative plan if he departs. On the other hand, if Fleury is out of service, Raanta can fill in and contribute. A Fleury-Raanta tandem is solid for a team in its inaugural season.

Vegas could even turn around and trade Raanta for other assets. Arizona is still in the market for a goalie, and teams like Winnipeg and Vancouver don’t have reliable options in net. Like Ottawa, the Rangers have other attractive options like Michael Grabner, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. Raanta can give Vegas the most flexibility and value.

 

Feature image courtesy of NHL.com

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