Movements in the world of hockey Monday:
American Hockey League
SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE-Released D Jimmy Sharrow.
Movements in the world of hockey Monday:
American Hockey League
SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE-Released D Jimmy Sharrow.
Rookies William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Nikita Zaitsev.
The Maple Leafs suddenly have as much as $15 million to work with at the trade deadline which they could use to make a big deal; Avalanche stars could stay put.
The rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs are among this season's most-improved clubs. After finishing at the bottom of the standings last season, the Leafs are jockeying for a post-season berth in the Eastern Conference.
Despite this improvement, the Leafs still have some roster weaknesses to address. Their most-pressing need is a skilled puck-moving defenseman. With the playoffs in sight, perhaps the Leafs could address that need by the trade deadline.
That possibility increased when Sportsnet's Chris Johnston last week reported the Leafs quietly placed injured players Nathan Horton, Joffrey Lupul and Stephane Robidas on long-term injured reserve. The moves give the Leafs flexibility in the form of an additional $15 million in salary-cap space.
With that kind of space, the Leafs have room to pursue a big-name player at the trade deadline. They've been linked in recent weeks to St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Despite the Blues' recent resurgence, TSN's Darren Dreger claims the 28-year-old Shattenkirk remains in play.
The asking price for Shattenkirk is thought to be at least a first-round pick and a top prospect. While the Leafs have the depth to meet that return, they could be unwilling to do so unless Shattenkirk, who's eligible in July for unrestricted free agency, is willing to sign a long-term extension.
If Shattenkirk proves too costly for the Leafs, more affordable options include Buffalo Sabres defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and New Jersey Devils rearguard Kyle Quincey. If they want additional depth at forward, Johnston suggests Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Brian Boyle, Dallas Stars right winger Patrick Sharp or Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal.
DUCHENE, LANDESKOG COULD STAY PUT IN COLORADO AFTER DEADLINE
The Colorado Avalanche reportedly continue to entertain offers for Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. While the notion of one or both moving before the March 1 trade deadline provides a much-needed spark to the trade-rumor mill, they could still be with the Avalanche when the deadline passes.
It's not as though there isn't any interest in the pair. For several weeks, the 26-year-old Duchene was linked to the Montreal Canadiens. Reports out of Boston earlier this month suggested the Bruins could make a push for the 24-year-old Landeskog. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports there's talk the Senators kicked tires on both players.
As always, the issue is the asking price. It's believed the Avs seek a good young defenseman, a first-round pick and a top prospect for either guy.
In a recent mailbag segment, CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty said the Bruins shouldn't give up a promising young blueliner such as Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy for Landeskog. TSN's Bob McKenzie reports Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has no intention of sacrificing his future. His colleague Pierre LeBrun believes the Sens interest in Duchene is pretty much dead unless the asking price is reduced.
LeBrun suggests the Carolina Hurricanes possess considerable depth in young blueliners and need a scoring center. However, he's not convinced Hurricanes GM Ron Francis will pony up for Duchene. LeBrun suggests Francis try to tempt the Toronto Maple Leafs into parting with William Nylander.
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic apparently isn't under pressure to move Duchene or Landeskog before the deadline. It's expected he'll wait for the off-season, when general managers usually have more salary-cap room and a willingness to deal.
FLAMES COULD LOOK AT GOALIES AGAIN
Prior to the 2016 NHL draft, the Calgary Flames created a stir when it was reported they contacted the Pittsburgh Penguins about goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The discussion apparently ended when the Pens asked for the Flames first-round pick (sixth overall). Calgary used that pick to select left winger Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames eventually acquired Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues, but he's failed to play up to expectations as a starting goaltender. With Chad Johnson also struggling of late, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reports the Flames could revisit their interest in the 32-year-old Fleury, who's lost his starter's job to rookie Matt Murray.
Earlier this month, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he's open to dealing Fleury but prefers retaining him as insurance for the playoffs. Unless Fleury, who carries a modified no-trade clause, asks to be dealt, he could finish the season in Pittsburgh.
The Flames also nearly had a deal in place last June to acquire Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning. If they can't pry Fleury out of Pittsburgh, maybe they can once again look into the 30-year-old Bishop's trade status.
Bishop's an unrestricted free agent this summer and isn't expected to be re-signed. If the Lightning put Bishop on the block, they could seek a young defenseman in return. It's doubtful, however, the Flames meet that price unless they get assurances that Bishop will re-sign with them.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Patrick Kane. Image by: Getty Images
It wasn't easy to get off the ground, but 20 years after it began the National Team Development Program has become synonymous with grooming NHL stars like Patrick Kane.
For the current generation of supremely skilled, but not-so-big players, Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane is an inspiration. The Buffalo native has weaved his 5-foot-11, 177-pound frame through NHL defenses for years, winning Stanley Cups and numerous awards along the way. For Kane, it’s a little bit of a wake-up call to realize he’s an archetype.
“I guess it means I’m getting old, right?” he said. “It’s amazing I’m in my 10th season and how fast it goes by.”
One of the major reasons Kane is where he is today is the National Team Development Program, USA Hockey’s hothouse program that brings together some of the premier under-17 and under-18 players in the nation. This season represents the 20th anniversary of the NTDP and was a major talking point during Hockey Week Across America, which is on right now. During a call promoting HWAA, Kane extolled the virtues of his time with the NTDP.
“For me, at that age, to go into a program like that – I was very undersized and it was great for me,” he said. “It had a huge impact on my development.”
Whether it was the focus on weight room time or simply learning from different athletes, Kane wrung as much as he could out of the Michigan-based program before heading off to the OHL’s London Knights. There, he crushed the competition with a league-high 145 points in 58 games before being selected first overall in the draft by the rebuilding Blackhawks in 2007.
While the NTDP has become synonymous with grooming NHL stars such as Kane, Phil Kessel and Ryan Suter, kicking off the experiment was not easy. Jordan Leopold and Adam Hall are still venerated by the program for taking a risk when the NTDP was just starting and no one knew what to expect. But it was a necessary gambit for USA Hockey at the time.
“We were not getting it done in big tournaments,” said Dave Ogrean, the soon-to-be retired executive director of USA Hockey. “And if you look at the arc that we’ve been on in the past 20 years, there has been significant improvement.”
Indeed, on top of three world junior golds in the past eight years, the U.S. has dominated the world under-18s, using a squad made up almost entirely of NTDP kids (one or two outsiders are sometimes brought in) every year.
“When you’re at The Program, there’s two big things you gear up for,” Kane said. “First is the World Under-17 Challenge, then the world under-18s. To go into a short tournament and come out on top was special for us.”
This is actually an interesting year for the NTDP’s under-18 squad. Though phenoms such as Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Zach Werenski are all recent alums, there’s a distinct possibility that no NTDP kids will go in the top-25 picks at the draft this summer. Since both the under-17s and under-18s play against older competition in the USHL and NCAA ranks, the NTDP kids often struggle at the beginning of each campaign, until they get physically stronger. While this season’s under-18s seemed to struggle a bit more than usual early on, the team did just win the Five Nations tourney in Sweden and scouts see them as a favorite once again for the worlds in mid-April (Canada’s efforts at the tourney are always hampered by the CHL playoffs, which run at the same time).
As for the draft anomaly, it’s just kind of a down year for Americans. Casey Mittelstadt looks like a potential top-five pick, but is splitting his time between Minnesota high school and the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers. Kailer Yamamoto is playing for his hometown Spokane Chiefs in the WHL. One of the NTDP’s most promising prospects is defenseman Quinn Hughes, but his late birthday means he’s eligible for the 2018 draft instead.
Nonetheless, the NTDP still looks vibrant for the future. Hughes, Bode Wilde (U17) and Brady Tkachuk (another late birthday) all look like blue-chippers for next year’s draft, with other big under-17 names such as Oliver Wahlstrom, Jake Pivonka and Jake Wise right behind them.
The hothouse experiment has been tried by other countries, such as Slovakia and Russia, without much success (in Russia’s case it was the worst ever, as the team had to be replaced before the world under-18s due to a drug scandal). It’s funny to think the Americans ever needed an about-face on international success, but that also speaks to the success of the NTDP in the past 20 years. Before we know it, Eichel and Matthews will be the ones wondering where their time in the NHL has gone.
Jonathan Toews. Image by: Getty Images
The Blackhawks captain may look like he’s merely shaken off a big slump. But the underlying numbers suggest he’s emerged as a different player – more offense, less defense.
The three-goal, five-point night wasn’t the match that ignited Jonathan Toews’ season. It was a squirt of gasoline on an already-raging fire. Toews got piping hot over the past two months, and Tuesday was the boiling point.
The Chicago Blackhawks captain started 2016-17 posting the worst offensive numbers of his career. Even as his regular right winger Marian Hossa enjoyed a resurgent offensive campaign, Toews just couldn’t find the net. He sat at four goals and 12 points after 22 games. Plenty of fans and pundits scoffed on social media at his All-Star Game invite over teammate Artemi Panarin.
Typically, we’ve accepted that Toews trades a bit of offense to be an elite two-way pivot. He’s shown the highlight-reel hands to be an 80-point player – just look at his immortalized shootout performance for Canada at the 2007 World Junior Championship – but he’s let Patrick Kane be the scoring star and sacrificed some scoring to play a shutdown role. Still, even by Toews’ Selke Trophy-winning standard, his offense was pitiful through mid-December. He sat at 0.60 points per game and had never finished a season below 0.73.
Even more concerning: Toews wasn’t performing as well as advertised from a defensive standpoint, either. Per corsica.hockey, Toews rates as one of the NHL’s very best possession players since stats like Corsi and Fenwick were born. Among NHL forwards with 1,000 or more minutes played since his rookie campaign of 2007-08, Toews ranks 16th in 5-on-5 Corsi at 55.8 percent. That includes a Corsi For of 61.48 and a Corsi against of 48.68, representing a player equally adept at driving shot attempts for his team and preventing shot attempts against his team.
Toews, though, slipped to a 5-on-5 Corsi of 51.38 percent in that lackluster 22-game sample to start 2016-17, with a Corsi For per 60 of 58.51 and a Corsi Against of 55.37. Teams were having a much easier time than normal getting attempts on Chicago’s net with Toews on the ice.
But the possession stats did show a player still creating a lot of offensive action for his team, and he was scoring on just 7.3 percent of his attempts, so a positive regression was coming. Since that juncture at Game 22, Toews has ignited for 30 points in his past 29 games, including a whopping 20 in his past 12, sprinkled with four- and five-point performances. He’s doing it primarily playing with Richard Panik and rookie Nick Schmaltz, so it’s not like another star scorer is carrying Toews. He’s scoring on 12.6 percent of his shots during his hot streak, still below his career average of 14.7, so we could see this goal-scoring run continue for a while.
The most interesting change for Toews comes in his possession numbers since the 29-game binge started. Defensively, he’s actually been worse, coughing up a Corsi Against per 60 of 57.2, but he’s sizzling with a Corsi For per 60 of 64.54. Per stats.hockeyanalysis.com, Toews faced the toughest quality of competition of any NHL forward with at least 500 minutes played last season, as Toews’ opponents averaged a 5-on-5 Corsi of 50.8. This season, his opponents average 50.2, ranking him 124th among forwards in quality of opponents. So he’s facing weaker competition yet still faring worse defensively.
What, then, are we witnessing? This isn’t The Old Jonathan Toews making a triumphant return. The possession numbers suggest he’s instead reversed his career trend and sacrificed some defense for a major spike in offense. He’s still not bad defensively, as his relative Corsi Against per 60 is still among the better figures on the Hawks, suggesting the team as a whole has regressed defensively this season, not just Toews. But he’s currently not the smothering defensive player he’s reputed to be. His offense, meanwhile, is right up there with Artemi Panarin for the team’s best on the year if we judge it by Corsi For per 60 relative to teammates.
Interestingly, with Toews filling the net, the Hawks have won 14 of their past 20 games and seven of their past eight. Unlocking Toews’ scoring seems to correlate directly with Chicago re-emerging as a dangerous Western Conference contender.
Meanwhile, the first-place Minnesota Wild have dropped their past two meetings with the Hawks, including Tuesday’s. The Wild still own a five-point lead in the Central Division with a game in hand, but would anyone put it past the Blackhawks to stay hot and steal the division crown and home ice advantage for the playoffs? If that happens, watch out. Toews has not returned as a powerhouse two-way forward yet, but he has emerged as a new beast altogether, albeit in a small sample size. It’s tough to say if the Hawks are a better or worse team with Toews no longer playing great shutdown hockey, but so far, so good.
Filip Forsberg back-to-back hat tricks have him on pace for another 30-goal season, and his career scoring rate has him looking like he could go down as one of the all-time greats in Predators history.
The Nashville Predators’ history isn’t exactly the most storied in all of NHL lore. The franchise hasn’t yet celebrated its 20th anniversary, there are no divisional titles, conference championships or Stanley Cups to speak of and there’s no player in team history to win one of the major individual awards. But that doesn’t mean the team hasn’t had its share of stars over the years.
Going through the list of some of the all-time leading scorers in Predators’ franchise history, you come across the likes of Shea Weber, who was, up until this season, the franchise’s cornerstone player, a three-time Norris Trophy finalist and one of the more revered blueliners of his era. Then there are players such as Ryan Suter and David Legwand, both of whom were fixtures of the team during its slow build to consistent success. There are also those temporary greats, notable players in league history who spent some time in Nashville, such as Paul Kariya or Peter Forsberg, whose stint was all too brief.
But amidst all of the players who have come and gone in Nashville’s history, the franchise has always seemed to be missing the one true offensive star that could help separate them from the rest of the pack. During Kariya’s time in Nashville, he was exceptional, to be sure, but his stay lasted only two seasons. Forsberg’s played all of 22 games in Nashville. And it’s Legwand, who’s known more for his tenacity, that is the franchise’s all-time points leader, and Martin Erat who ranks second all-time. Oddly enough, though, Erat may have been unintentionally responsible for the Predators finally acquiring the first consistently great scorer in franchise history.
There’s no use going over the trade once again, but the deal that sent Erat to the Capitals, a trade that went bust for Washington, landed the Predators Filip Forsberg. At the time, he was an 18-year-old first-round pick who had yet to play a game in the big league, and he wouldn’t really find his way to the NHL full-time until the start of the 2014-15 season. Since then, though, he’s been a revelation for the Predators.
In his rookie campaign, Forsberg finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting thanks to a 26-goal, 63-point season, and he didn’t shrink in his first trip to the post-season. In six games, he managed four goals and six points. The following year, as Forsberg hoped not to be a flash in the pan or hit a sophomore slump, he came out firing and topped his previous career highs by scoring 33 goals and 64 points. And this season, his third full campaign in the league, Forsberg is again on pace to reach the 30-goal plateau and add another 57 points to his career totals. Not to mention he is coming off of back-to-back hat tricks. At that rate, Forsberg would end this season with 90 goals and 190 points in 242 games in his time as a Predator.
On the all-time scoring register, that doesn’t make Forsberg’s scoring ability look like all that much. In fact, he’ll rank behind current Predators such as Craig Smith, Colin Wilson and defenseman Roman Josi. However, Forsberg, 22, has five years remaining on his current deal before he can himself look at heading elsewhere as a free agent, and by that time he may have etched himself into Predators history as one of the top scorers the franchise has ever seen.
Already, Forsberg is among the greatest point producers per game the Predators have seen. Among players to play at least 150 games in Nashville, Forsberg has the third-best goals per game rate at .34, his .38 assists per game are 11th most in franchise history and his .72 points per game is the highest of any active Predator. Only two current Predators outrank Forsberg in either of the statistical categories, and that’s James Neal, who has scored .36 goals per game, and Josi, who has .42 assists per game over his tenure in Nashville. And while Josi is in for the long haul, Neal’s deal is up in two seasons, and it’s not unimaginable that he could be playing the final years of his career elsewhere. Even if that’s not the case, though, it’s hard to imagine his scoring pace isn’t matched or surpassed by Forsberg in the near future.
And when it comes to scoring, conservatively extrapolating Forsberg’s current rates seems to indicate he’ll be one of the Predators’ all-time greats, too.
Let’s say Forsberg plays 70 games a season over the next five years, and continues his current scoring pace. If he has 90 goals and 190 points when this season ends, scoring another .34 goals per game over an additional 350 games would give him another 119 goals for a total of 209 in 634 games. The current leader is Legwand, who scored 210 times during his 956-game Predators tenure. As for points, Forsberg’s .72 points per game rate over the course of the next 350 games would give him 442 for his career, putting him one point back of Shea Weber for third in team history.
The thing is, though, there’s nothing to suggest Forsberg is going to miss 60 games over the next five years. Through the first two campaigns of his career, he didn’t miss a single game and he’s again on pace to play a full 82 games for the Predators. If he were to be an ironman over the final five years of his deal, he’d have 229 goals and 485 points at his current rate. That’d make Forsberg the best goal scorer in franchise history and only Legwand, with 566 points, would be a higher overall scorer. That said, Forsberg would have reached his statistical heights in more than 200 fewer games. In a career that spans as long as Legwand’s did in Nashville, Forsberg would have roughly 324 goals and 691 points.
In considering all of this, it’s worth mentioning again that Forsberg is 22. He still isn’t in the prime of his career and he’s a 30-goal scorer. As the Predators add more offensive weapons around him, it stands to reason that he could start to near 40-plus goal plateau or reach heights even beyond that. And that he’s got another five years to operate makes it hard to fathom he won’t end up as the best goal scorer the franchise has seen and one of the top point-getters in Predators’ history.
When Nashville GM David Poile made the deal to acquire Forsberg, he called the youngster “one of the top rated young forwards in the world.” Not even he could have known, however, that Forsberg would grow into the best offensive weapon the Predators have ever possessed.
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