Max Talbot came to Philadelphia in hopes of earning another shot at the Stanley Cup. Things haven't gone exactly as planned. The Flyers took a step backwards last season when they failed to qualify for the playoffs. This year, Talbot is focused on helping the club take a massive leap forward and a deep run this spring.
Ahead of the new season, THN's Adam Proteau sat down with Talbot to discuss the expectations on the Flyers, Vincent Lecavalier and more.
Evgeny Kuznetsov’s production over the first two months of the season had some concerned, but he’s been a near point per game player since the start of December, which just so happens to coincide with the Capitals’ run up the standings.
The Washington Capitals are riding high right now. With 22 games left in the campaign, they’re seven points clear of the rival Pittsburgh Penguins for first in the Metropolitan Division, the Caps hold a five-point edge in the Presidents’ Trophy race and there aren’t many, if any, teams that have fared much better over the past month.
For the Capitals, their run to the top of the league’s powerhouse division really kicked off in December. A few days into the month, Washington was fourth in the Metropolitan, trailing the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Penguins, neck-and-neck with the Philadelphia Flyers and only a single point up on the New Jersey Devils. But as the month progressed, the tide turned in Washington and the Capitals have gone on to post a 28-6-5 record since the start of December.
The reasons for Washington’s run to the top of the division have been plenty. Nicklas Backstrom has taken his game to another level this season, and he’s been as good as we’ve seen him in several years, contributing at more than a point per game clip. Then there’s Braden Holtby, the Capitals’ all-world goaltender, who has been every bit the brick wall the Capitals hoped he would be when they shelled out big money to keep the netminder. And, of course, Alex Ovechkin has been Alex Ovechkin, teeing up pucks and blasting them home one shot at a time. But one underrated aspect of the current run, especially with the way Backstrom has risen into contention for the Art Ross, has been the play of Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The 24-year-old entered the season coming off of a career year, scoring 20 goals and 77 points during the 2015-16 campaign. Believed to be finally hitting his stride, there were high hopes for Kuznetsov to start the year, but he had failed to live up to those early on. Through the first month of the season, a span of 14 games, Kuznetsov had only two goals and seven points, and by the time November was over, the painfully slow start had reached its worst point. At the 21-game mark of the season, Kuznetsov had registered only three goals and nine points. He was on pace to go from a 77-point player to hitting the mid-30s after his breakout year.
As the Capitals have started to pick up steam, though, so has Kuznetsov. In fact, since the start of December, the only Capital with more points than Kuznetsov is Backstrom and only six other players league-wide have been as prolific. In his past 39 games, Kuznetsov has scored 11 goals and 38 points, putting him into a tie with the league’s scoring leader, Connor McDavid, and ahead of the likes of Ovechkin, Mark Scheifele and John Tavares over that same span. His 11 goals aren’t exactly tops in the league since the start of December but Kuznetsov, who’d probably fancy himself more of a set-up specialist than triggerman, has 27 assists since December kicked off. The only players better? Backstrom and McDavid, with 31 and 29 assists, respectively.
Kuznetsov turning his season around should’ve been seen coming, though, because the rate at which he produced consistently across the past season appeared to be anything but a fluke. At 5-on-5 in 2015-16, Kuznetsov registered 2.54 points per 60 minutes of action, and it’s no shock that he’s back in that range again this season thanks to his scoring surge, contributing 2.34 points per 60 minutes this season. It’s not just five-a-side where Kuznetsov is contributing, though, as he’s also put up nine power play points in the past 39 games. And his overall scoring rate since the start of December, which is a hair from a point per game, would have him setting a career-best for points had he been able to get the scoring started right from the get-go.
The only real concern surrounding Kuznetsov now is that he could see his shooting percentage plummet. He’s shooting at a nearly 12 percent clip right now — and a ridiculous 12.2 percent at 5-on-5, up from 7.75 percent in 2015-16 — which is almost a full 1.5 percent above his career average. If anywhere, that’s where Kuznetsov’s scoring could start to fall off. The good news? His assist totals per 60 minutes are also down, and if there’s less lamp lighting but more perfect passes in Kuznetsov’s future, the Capitals will surely take it.
From goaltending to coaching to scoring to depth, there are dozens of reasons why the Capitals stand to be one of the favorites heading into the post-season. But one of the biggest unsung heroes with the way everyone on the club has contributed this season is Kuznetsov — last season’s standout has, in a way, been this season’s underrated stud. He stands to be an X-factor heading into the playoffs, and if Kuznetsov can keep it going into April, the Capitals stand to benefit in a big, big way.
There are some big names on the trade market, sure, but what happens on deadline day if those players are all moved before March 1?
Entering the final weekend before the NHL's March 1 trade deadline, activity is expected to increase in what's been a mostly stagnant trade market. There's already been two notable moves in recent days, with the Arizona Coyotes shipping defenseman Michael Stone to the Calgary Flames and the Carolina Hurricanes dealing blueliner Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In recent years, some notable stars were moved well before deadline day. In 2015, Jaromir Jagr, Keith Yandle, Andrej Sekera and Antoine Vermette were moved to new clubs within days of the March 2 deadline. Last season, Eric Staal and Andrew Ladd were dealt the weekend prior to the Feb. 29 deadline, as well as second-tier players such as James Reimer, Kris Versteeg, Jiri Hudler and Justin Schultz.
It's not unusual for players to be moved well before deadline day. But in a season where there's a shortage of noteworthy trade bait, this year's deadline could be devoid of significant moves.
That will be a nightmare for the sports networks covering deadline day. Viewers could face hours of tedium as TV pundits try to play up the merits of the available lesser lights in the trade market.
This year's market is particularly thin, in part because of a notable lack of quality pending free agents usually pursued by playoff clubs as rental players. Parity in the postseason race and concerns over protecting players in the June expansion draft also adversely affects the trade pool.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk remains this season's top potential rental player. Given the trend of the last two years, he could be on the move by Monday.
Despite the Blues' improvement in recent weeks, TSN's Darren Dreger believes Shattenkirk will be dealt. Noting Troy Brouwer and David Backes departed last summer via free agency, Dreger feels the Blues want to avoid the same scenario with the 28-year-old blueliner.
Dreger's colleague Bob McKenzie reports the Blues were believed to have had tentative deals involving Shattenkirk with three different teams stretching back to last summer. However, all fell through because he was unwilling to sign a long-term contract extension.
According to McKenzie, the most recent occurred about six weeks ago, as Shattenkirk turned down a seven-year, $42-million offer. According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that deal was thought to be with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Blues will now shop the rearguard as a rental player. It's believed the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs are among the suitors. However, the Blues reportedly seek at least a first-round pick and a top prospect. The Rangers and Leafs could balk at that, preferring instead to bid for his services in the free-agent market in July.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop still features prominently in this season's rumor chatter. After struggling with inconsistency and injury in the first half of this season, the 30-year-old's performance has improved in recent weeks.
However, there isn't much of a market for starting goalies at this point in the season. Bishop was linked to the Dallas Stars earlier this season, but they're now out of playoff contention and unlikely to go goalie-shopping. The Calgary Flames nearly had a deal in place for Bishop before the 2016 NHL draft. Perhaps they'll revisit that interest before the deadline.
Despite the risk of losing Bishop in July to free agency, the Lightning could retain him. Over the past couple of weeks, the Bolts have surged back into playoff contention. Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Timesspeculates they could stick with Bishop and hope he can backstop them into the postseason.
Detroit Red Wings left winger Thomas Vanek is the most notable rental forward. With the Red Wings poised to miss the playoffs for the first time in 25 season seasons, MLive.com's Brendan Savage expects GM Ken Holland will soon go into sell mode. The 33-year-old Vanek is Holland's best trade chip. Teams lacking scoring depth on the wing, such as the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators, could come calling.
The rest of the rental market is comprised of second-tier players such as Coyotes center Martin Hanzal and past-their prime stars like Colorado Avalanche right winger Jarome Iginla and Stars right winger Patrick Sharp. TSN's Pierre LeBrun speculates Hanzal could be on the move before deadline day.
If Shattenkirk, Bishop, Vanek, and Hanzal are gone by March 1, this year's deadline could be a dud for fans and pundits.
Noteworthy stars such as Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, Edmonton Oilers right winger Jordan Eberle or Buffalo Sabres left winger Evander Kane could also be traded on deadline day. But all of them carry annual cap hits in excess of $5 million and the Avs set high asking prices for Duchene and Landeskog.
Given the concerns over a stagnant salary-cap for 2017-18 and the need to protect those players in the expansion draft, it's doubtful any of them will be moved at this year's trade deadline.
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.).
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.
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.