The Red Wings snapped a four-game losing streak.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 27 saves for Anaheim.
The Red Wings snapped a four-game losing streak.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 27 saves for Anaheim.
The Blue Jackets have been the most pleasant surprise in the NHL this season, but it's still going to take convincing for the hockey world to believe they're for real.
We’ll totally understand if you’re having just a little trouble getting on board with the 2016-17 version of the Columbus Blue Jackets. After all, you’ve probably been burned before.
Their fan base certainly seems to be wary. Despite the fact the Blue Jackets are the surprise of the NHL and have emerged as one of the most dynamic and exciting teams in the league, they drawn fewer than 12,000 in three of their past four home games. Even their coach thinks the team has work to do to earn their fans’ trust. “I want our team to have a chip on their shoulder,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella told Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch recently. “I think they should. We’re trying to get respect in the league. Quite honestly, we should be disrespected because of where we’ve been.”
That won’t last long if the Blue Jackets keep this up. The league’s best power play continues to fuel one of the league’s hottest teams and has landed them at the top of thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings for the second time this season. Last week’s rankings in parentheses:
CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Columbus Blue Jackets (8)
2. Philadelphia Flyers (15)
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (6)
4. St. Louis Blues (2)
5. Chicago Blackhawks (5)
6. Montreal Canadiens (7)
7. New York Rangers (4)
8. San Jose Sharks (11)
9. Boston Bruins (20)
10. Calgary Flames (27)
Is there a bigger bargain or a shrewder off-season signing than Sam Gagner?...Steve Mason went from one of the worst goalies in the NHL early in the season to one of the best of late. His save percentage in his first 16 games was .892, but has improved to .947 in his past five… If Marc-Andre Fleury wants to get traded, he’s not doing himself any favor with his play lately…The Blues completed a 4-0-1 home stand with the game going into overtime…With Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford already out, the Blackhawks lost defenseman Brent Seabrook in their 4-0 win over Arizona Tuesday night…How will the Canadiens and the surprising Alexander Radulov respond to the injury to Alex Galchenyuk?...The injury-ravaged Rangers saw Rick Nash go down with a groin injury and Matt Puempel to a concussion in their 4-2 loss to the Islanders Tuesday night…Joe Thornton passed Brendan Shanahan for 25th all-time on the NHL’s scoring list with an assist in a 2-1 win over Montreal last week…Anyone who predicted David Pastrnak would be in Rocket Richard Trophy contention a third of the way into the season is looking very bright at the moment…The Flames were already one of the hottest teams in the NHL without Johnny Gaudreau, then won their first two with him back in the lineup.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Washington Capitals (11)
12. Edmonton Oilers (14)
13. Ottawa Senators (12)
14. Los Angeles Kings (1)
15. New Jersey Devils (23)
16. Detroit Red Wings (16)
17. Nashville Predators (3)
18. Minnesota Wild (19)
19. Anaheim Ducks (10)
20. Winnipeg Jets (17)
Capitals coach Barry Trotz had some pointed words to Alex Ovechkin about his penchant for taking minor penalties of late. No cracks in the foundation, though. Just a frank discussion…The Oilers game Tuesday night against Buffalo was touted as Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel, the kind of narrative the Oilers have learned to accept. “Every night it’s Connor vs. Somebody,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan…Goalie Craig Anderson started in the Senators’ 8-5 loss to Pittsburgh Monday night, but did not travel with the team for a three-game California trip to be with his wife as she undergoes treatment for throat cancer…The usually stingy Kings have given up 11 goals in their past three games. “That’s too many goals,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter…Devils winger Taylor Hall on the aftermath of his clean, but devastating, hit on Philip Larsen Tuesday night: “I feel terrible.” Not to be trite, but Hall should not be feeling terrible about the way he has played since returning from a knee injury. He has five points in his past two games…Goalie Jimmy Howard will be back in uniform for the Red Wings when they host Columbus Friday night, but will have a difficult time pushing Petr Mrazek out of the crease…After missing four games with an upper-body injury, James Neal scored a goal in a 4-3 Predators’ win over Colorado Tuesday night…Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, whose career was revived when he came to Minnesota, will make his 300th career start tonight in Toronto…Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle could not pull Jonathan Bernier during his team’s 8-3 loss to Calgary because backup John Gibson was battling a stomach virus…Over the past 30 years, only Teemu Selanne and Alex Ovechkin have scored goals at a better pace than Patrik Laine of the Jets is scoring them now.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. New York Islanders (26)
22. Tampa Bay Lightning (22)
23. Carolina Hurricanes (25)
24. Buffalo Sabres (29)
25. Florida Panthers (24)
26. Vancouver Canucks (18)
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (13)
28. Dallas Stars (28)
29. Arizona Coyotes (21)
30. Colorado Avalanche (30)
With points in each of their past five games, four of them wins, the Islanders are easily on their most successful string of the season…The Lightning could get Ryan Callahan, Jason Garrison and Jonathan Drouin back for their home game against Vancouver Thursday night…Jordan Staal, sidelined for the past four games with a concussion, likely won’t be available to the Hurricanes for a three-game road trip through California that begins tonight…After playing almost 500 games in the minors, defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer made his NHL debut in the Sabres’ 3-2 overtime win over Washington Tuesday night… Panthers have gone to overtime in four of their five games GM Tom Rowe has been behind the bench. They’ve won one in overtime, lost two in OT and one in a shootout…Philip Larsen, who was taken off the ice on a stretcher after a hit from Taylor Hall Tuesday night, was released from hospital in New Jersey Wednesday morning and was cleared to return to Vancouver while the Canucks continue on a five-game road trip…After waiving Jhonas Enroth, the Maple Leafs search for a backup goalie continues. They signed Karri Ramo to a professional tryout contract and assigned him to their farm team. That should cure everything…The Coyotes have been outscored 14-6 and have averaged 41 shots against per game in an 0-3-1 month of December…All nine of Matt Duchene’s goals this season have come on the road. The Avs could use that kind of production at the Pepsi Center, where they’re 4-8-1 this season and recently went 0-4-1 on a five-game homestand.
From big off-season acquisitions struggling to oft-maligned players proving their worth, the NHL has its fair share of players who are hard to figure out.
I'm still confused.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the NHL's five most confusing teams, at least from my perspective. These were the teams that I just couldn't figure out. Were they good? Bad? Somewhere in the middle? I'd spent the season trying to work it out, and come up empty.
As it turned out, I wasn't alone. More than a few readers confessed to being confused by those teams too, not to mention several others. It was like having a support group. A support group of confused hockey fans, all watching the games unfold with their heads tilted like a puppy seeing a toilet flush for the first time.
Well, today I'm going to call another meeting of the confused hockey fan network. But this time, we're not looking at teams. No, today we're going to dive into some specific players that have me perplexed. In most of these cases, I thought I had a handle on things. But now I'm not so sure.
Maybe you can help me out. Or maybe you're just as confused as I am. Either way, I think it will be good for my soul to admit that I just can't figure these guys out.
What I thought I knew: After an up-and-down start to this NHL career, Elliott had settled in to a predictable pattern with the Blues. He'd play well. He'd post strong numbers, sometimes even league-leading ones. And then, just when push came to shove, the Blues would lose faith in him and hand the starter's job to someone else. Maybe it was the backup. Maybe it was a pricey trade acquisition. Maybe it was even a semi-retired legend, in a move we'd all agree to just pretend never happened. But time and time again, the Blues had no faith in Elliott.
And I was convinced that they were wrong. This was the classic case of a team over-thinking things, or maybe letting dressing room politics or a faith in intangibles override basic logic. The numbers didn't lie: Elliott was one of the best goalies in the league. And when the Flames nabbed him at a discount in the offseason, I was sure that they'd found their starter.
Where I'm at now: Sitting around wondering what happened. Which is also where Elliott finds himself most games these days.
Chad Johnson has been a great story, and you can't blame the Flames for riding the hot hand. Elliott got off to a bad start, and when you're a young team that hasn't earned a ton of self-confidence quite yet, you can't let yourself fall too far out of the race. The Flames are being smart here.
But… Elliott is still good, right? Every goalie has the occasional slump, so we can't panic over 13 games. Then again, Elliott's never really done much outside of Ken Hitchcock's goalie factory, and the Blues still didn't believe in him. Did they know something that the rest of us, including the Flames, somehow missed?
What I thought I knew: Remember when Ryan was left off of Team USA in 2014, partly because Brian Burke didn't think he could spell "intense"? What a ridiculous snub that was. Hey guys, 30-goal scorers in their prime don't exactly grow on trees.
Where I'm at now: Has anyone noticed that Bobby Ryan doesn't score 30 goals anymore?
Well, sure, I imagine Senator fans were already in the loop on this one. But it feels like the rest of us have been slow to realize that Ryan just hasn't been the same player in Ottawa that he was in Anaheim. His best year since the 2013 trade was only 23 goals, and that was back in 2013-14. This year, he has just three goals through 21 games.
In hindsight, maybe we should have seen that coming. Ryan was 26 when the trade went down, and in today's NHL, that's already past the peak of many forwards. But the Senators clearly thought they were getting an elite player with some big seasons left in him – remember, we're just two years removed from them handing him a $50-million contract.
Ryan's had to overcome some tough hurdles in his life, including the loss of his mother this summer. It still feels like he could rebound and reclaim his status as a first-line player. But if not, the budget-conscious Senators may be stuck with an ugly-looking contract that they can't really afford.
What I thought I knew: Any Leaf fan who was paying attention was in on this one. Sure, Bozak had put up some decent stats over the years, but he'd done it as Phil Kessel's sidekick, inexplicably getting all the playing time with Toronto's best player and reaping the rewards. And even then, his numbers had been just OK, never topping 50 points in a season and struggling in his own end.
It was a classic case of a superstar propping up an also-ran. And once Kessel was shipped out of town, we'd see the real Tyler Bozak.
Where I'm at now: Hey, it turns out the real Tyler Bozak is pretty good.
Not "first line center" good. Certainly not "team MVP" good, despite some of the sillier hype from the Kessel era. But his production hasn't cratered without his superstar wingman. In fact, it's improved slightly, and he's on pace for the most productive season of his career this year.
Maybe he's benefitting from the Leafs finally having some depth at center. Maybe he's embracing his role as the "dad figure" on one of the league's youngest rosters. Or maybe he was just better than I thought he was all along.
What I thought I knew: He's easily one of the best young offensive defensemen in the league.
Where I'm at now: Pretty much the same place. Which is why what's going on in Dallas right now is so hard to figure out.
Last month, Lindy Ruff made Klingberg a healthy scratch, and everyone went "What?" Then we found out that Klingberg had missed a team meeting, so fair enough — the rules apply to everyone. But then last week he was scratched again, this time for performance reasons.
And sure enough, he hasn't been great this year. He's on pace for the worst offensive totals of his career, and he's getting creamed on possession, where he'd previously been very solid. Sure, maybe nobody would look good in front of that Dallas goaltending. And Ruff is carrying eight defenseman, which makes his decisions tougher. But Klingberg really has looked off this year, and with a 98.5 PDO, this isn't all about bad luck and shaky percentages. Something's wrong.
We're talking about a guy who finished sixth in the Norris voting last year, in just his second NHL season. It looked like the Stars had themselves a poor man's Erik Karlsson in the making. Maybe they still do. But this season has turned a sure thing into a major question mark.
What I thought I knew: No clue. None. He seems like a good guy. Smallish, and without any especially flashy numbers, but he always seemed like a nice underdog story who'd overachieved over the years on a long path towards earning some respect. I usually like those kind of stories.
But over the last few years, Russell has somehow morphed into the poster child for the debate between analytics and old school. And you're not allowed to stake out a middle ground. You have to either think he's the second coming of Scott Stevens, willing his team to victory by sheer force of heart, or you have to think he's hot garbage. Those are your only two options. And you better choose quickly, because as soon as his name get mentioned, everybody is going to start yelling.
Where I'm at now: SO MUCH YELLING!
Honestly, I have no idea. When Russell hit free agency this summer, I thought the big numbers being thrown around were a little ridiculous. So did the league, apparently, since he had to settle for a one-year deal with the Oilers. That seemed like a good fit, and you figured Russell could settle in, put together a decent season, and take another shot at a big UFA payday next year.
No such luck. No, apparently we all have to keep fighting the Great Kris Russell Battle until the end of time. Is he good? Bad? What position does he even play? Nobody remembers.
We have always been at war with Kris Russell. Now pick a side and go yell at somebody about it.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
The NHL could be looking at a $2 million rise in the salary cap for next season, but early projections should be taken with a grain of salt. In December 2015, a potential rise of $3 million was projected. The upper limit increased by only $1.6 million.
It’s still far too soon to tell, but early estimations have it looking like the salary cap could jump up as much as $2 million ahead of the 2017-18 campaign.
Following the NHL’s Board of Governors meetings on Thursday, commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about what the league sees as a potential cap for the upcoming campaign, which, among other things, will see the introduction of the league’s 31st franchise in the Vegas Golden Knights.
Bettman didn’t give an exact figure as to what the cap will look like, but he said there’s the potential for the upper limit to move by roughly $2 million.
"There's always a range, but it's something we're going to have to look at very carefully in terms of how may be best to approach it," Bettman said, according to NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. "The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we're going to all have to focus on what makes most sense going forward.”
Any increase in the cap would be good news for the players, especially pending unrestricted free agents looking to land long-term, big-money deals. St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Ben Bishop are two of the biggest names currently slated to hit the open market come July 2017.
Of course, there’s a chance the cap stays flat, which Bettman also indicated, but said he’d prefer to speak with the NHLPA about a possible flat cap before answering questions about it.
Before any GMs with tight cap situations or fans who’re praying their respective teams get some cap breathing room go celebrating, it’s worth noting that early projections for the 2016-17 salary cap saw the upper limit increasing by close to $3 million. That would have seen the cap rise from $71.4 million to $74.5 million, and anyone paying close attention to the financials of the league’s teams is aware that rise in the upper limit didn’t quite come to fruition.
Instead, the cap for the current campaign is $71.4 million, and the rise is mostly thanks to the NHLPA using their five-percent “escalator clause.” Had the players not used the clause, there was some concern the cap could have actually dipped from the past season to the current campaign. Some projections had the cap possibly falling below $70 million for 2016-17.
A rise of $2 million would be only slightly more than the $1.6 million increase from 2015-16 to 2016-17, and it would be one of the smallest increases since the salary cap was introduced in 2005-06. From 2008-09 to 2009-10, the cap rose by only $100,000 and there was no rise in the cap from 2011-12 to 2013-14, with teams allowed to spend to a $60-million limit during the 2012-13 lockout-shortened campaign.
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Fans want to see NHL players play at the Olympics, the players want to play in the tournament, but the NHL’s Board of Governors still needs some convincing.
If the NHL is going to send players to the Olympics, the NHL’s Board of Governors are going to need some convincing and they’re going to need it in rather short order.
It was reported around the World Cup of Hockey that the NHL had a mid-January deadline to decide on Olympic participation for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. And at the first day of Board of Governors meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., little more than a month from that deadline, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t make it sound as though the situation is all that positive in terms of the world’s best players heading to the tournament.
One of the sticking points for the Board of Governors, according to Bettman, was the impact the Olympics have on the NHL product.
"There are a lot of owners, clubs, over the years that have been very concerned about what Olympic participation does to the season, what it does to the players in terms of injuries, not just to those that go but having a compressed schedule can make the players more tired, more wear and tear, and the potential for injury is greater,” Bettman said, according to NHL.com’s Dan Rosen.
The other major issue, as has been reported throughout the past summer and into the early part of the season, is the cost of playing at the Olympics. There are a host of expenses associated with the players suiting up at the Olympics, including insurance and travel costs, but IIHF president Rene Fasel told Sportsnet in mid-November that the federation would find a way to cover those costs.
Even still, Bettman approached the IIHF’s assurance of covering the costs with skepticism and a warning that it doesn’t mean Olympic participation is green lit.
"We have been very clear to Rene Fasel at the IIHF and to Don Fehr at the [NHL] Players' Association that if the expenses aren't being covered, the League isn't paying for them and there really is nothing to talk about," Bettman said, according to Rosen. "Just because somebody may decide to pay for them, and to this point we don't actually know where that stands, that doesn't mean that it's a go.”
Bettman added that he wasn’t sure there was “even the money to cover what's been covered in the last Olympics,” regardless of what the IIHF would say. And even if everything fell in line for an Olympic participation proposal in the coming days, weeks or month, Bettman said it will still need the approval of the Board of Governors in order for the players to be sent to South Korea for the tournament.
"If there is something at some point to take to the Board, it will need an affirmative vote of the Board of Governors," Bettman said, according to Rosen. "I think it's fair to say that there is some strong negative sentiment in the room, but nothing was decided today.”
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