Panthers hire potential Hall of Famer Roberto Luongo as special adviser

Retirement won’t last long for Roberto Luongo . The Florida Panthers officially announced the hiring of Luongo as special adviser to the general manager, bringing him back into the organization. GM Dale Tallon explained how much the former goaltender means to the Panthers:

“I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with Roberto during his time playing for the Panthers and am proud to welcome him to our franchise’s hockey operations staff. Roberto always approached every game with an unmatched work ethic and we are confident he will take to this new role with the same passion. A cornerstone player in our franchise’s history, we are thrilled that ’Lu’ will have a hand in shaping our franchise’s future.”

Luongo retired from the NHL this offseason after a long career. He played more games in net than any player in league history other than Martin Brodeur and ranks third in wins only behind Brodeur and Patrick Roy. Regarded as one of the league’s best netminders for nearly that entire period, he nevertheless only got to play in 70 total playoff games, reaching the Stanley Cup Final just once when he was with the Vancouver Canucks.

In March, the Panthers are set to retire Luongo’s sweater number.

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/panthers_hire_potential_hall_of_famer_roberto_luongo_as_special_adviser/s1_14825_30530618

By: Gavin Lee

The 10 most surprising developments of the NHL season

The first month of the 2019-20 NHL season has been full of surprises. Teams that we looked at as preseason Stanley Cup contenders have not yet played to expectations. Teams that we considered to be preseason draft lottery contenders have not only exceeded expectations but also are looking like potential playoff teams.

Here we take a look at 10 of the biggest surprises so far this season.

1. Everything about the Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers have been a laughing stock across the NHL for more than a decade and have been especially frustrating for the way they have wasted Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The opening night roster looked like it was going to be more of the same during the 2019-20 season. But through the first month of the season, the Oilers find themselves in the thick of the Pacific Division race and as of Nov. 11 had a three-point division lead. The concern is that almost all of the offense has been driven by McDavid and Draisaitl, and that recipe has not exactly worked well in the past. How long they can maintain that remains to be seen, but helping matters so far has been a surprisingly strong performance from goalie Mike Smith and James Neal going through a massive bounce-back season that has already seen him score 12 goals in 19 games. He had just seven goals in 63 games for the Calgary Flames a year ago.

2. The San Jose Sharks might not be good 

Everyone knew the Sharks had issues with their goaltending (well, everyone except for the Sharks themselves), and that problem is still as big as it was a year ago. Adding to that: The team in front of the goalies seems to have taken several steps backward. Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have not been as dynamic on the blue line, a lot of offense lost from Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi has not really been replaced, and the Sharks are already facing a pretty steep mountain when it comes to making the playoffs. Not everyone has the talent to pull off what the St. Louis Blues did a year ago in going from worst to first, but the Sharks might be a team capable of that IF they can fix their goaltending and if everyone else on the team starts to play to expectations.

3. The Vancouver Canucks might be good 

The general direction of the team has been bizarre because it hasn’t really committed to any sort of meaningful direction and has signed some really questionable long-term contracts. But the Canucks’ young stars (Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes) have quickly become impact players who look like they can carry the team; Hughes is already emerging as possibly another Calder Trophy contender. What is impressive, too, about the Canucks’ start is they are showing a lot of signs that they might be for real, especially with the way they control shot attempts, push the pace and outscore their opponents at even strength.

4. Something might be wrong with the Tampa Bay Lightning 

Did their latest postseason exit finally break them? The 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the most dominant regular-season teams ever, tying a league record with 62 wins and possessing an All-Star roster full of individual award winners. It seemed like it was finally their year to win the Stanley Cup, until they could not even win a single playoff game, losing in four straight to the No. 8 seed, Columbus Blue Jackets. It was a perfect situation for a team to make drastic, knee-jerk changes that would probably do more to set them back than push them ahead. Is that what happened here? The Lightning have not only won just eight of their first 15 games, but they also have not been anything close to what they were in recent years in style.

5. Winnipeg is still in it

This is a pretty big shock simply because the Winnipeg Jets defense did not look to be NHL quality at the start of the season. Jacob Trouba was traded, Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers exited in free agency, and their best player — Dustin Byfuglien — is taking a break from the game due to an ankle injury and is reportedly contemplating his future in a situation that will probably bring in a neutral arbitrator. Even with their forward talent it seemed like this was going to be a tough year for the Jets because the defense was just, quite simply, not good. But they are finding ways to compete and are not going away thanks to their forward depth up front and some great goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck.

6. The Rangers and Devils have not shown much improvement 

No teams had bigger offseasons than the Rangers and Devils. They had the top two picks in the draft (Jack Hughes to New Jersey; Kaapo Kakko to New York) and made several impact additions to their rosters (Devils added P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, Wayne Simmonds; Rangers added Trouba, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox). More than a month into the season, and neither team has really taken a big step forward, with the Devils being especially disappointing thanks to multiple blown leads of two or more goals. And they are facing some pressure to convince their best player — Taylor Hall — to re-sign after this season. Meanwhile, general manager Ray Shero has just one playoff appearance in five years with the team.

7. The New York Islanders somehow look even better

If you were expecting the Islanders to regress after their surprising turnaround a year ago, you are probably disappointed right now. Thanks to a 10-game winning streak that was broken just last week, they are once again near the top of the NHL standings and look like a team that is going to break the mold for what we think a playoff team should look like.

8. The Toronto Maple Leafs look ordinary  

They have not necessarily been bad, but they are not really doing anything to make anyone believe they have the roster — or the coach — to break through the glass ceiling that has been Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the second offseason in a row, they made a significant addition to their roster, this time adding defenseman Tyson Barrie from the Colorado Avalanche. But is there anything about their play that makes anyone believe they have what it takes to beat the Boston Bruins? Or any of the top teams in the Eastern Conference? They have not shown it yet.

9. The Blackhawks’ window seems to be closed

After two straight non-playoff seasons, we probably should not be too surprised the Blackhawks are struggling again. What makes it stand out even more is they really tried to improve the roster with the additions of Olli Maatta, Calvin de Haan, Andrew Shaw and Robin Lehner. It has not really helped. The defense remains a major problem that is going to be dependent on the goaltending duo of Lehner and Corey Crawford to steal games. Perhaps most concerning is that after a bounce-back performance in 2018-19, Jonathan Toews is once again showing signs of a significant decline offensively. With the money it have invested in him the team needs more.

10. Somebody might actually score more goals than Alex Ovechkin this season

Ovechkin finished as the NHL’s top goal scorer two years in a row and in six of the past seven seasons. He is the most dominant goal scorer ever, is not really slowing down even at 34 years old and is off to one of his best starts ever. He seems like a lock to score at least 50 goals again as long as he stays healthy. That still may not be enough to get him another goal-scoring crown simply because David Pastrnak (Boston Bruins) and Draisaitl, who narrowly missed out on the goal-scoring crown a year ago, are scoring goals at such a ridiculous pace. Both players look like they are going to give Ovechkin his best challenge in years.

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/the_10_most_surprising_developments_of_the_nhl_season/s1_13132_30509882

By: Adam Gretz

Three takeaways from Washington Capitals’ 4-3 overtime win over Toronto Maple Leafs

The last time the Washington Capitals faced the Toronto Maple Leafs, the final score was in favor of Washington, who managed a 4-3 win. On Tuesday, the story had the same ending, but played out in a completely different way.

Prior to puck drop, Alex Ovechkin had some advice for the Maple Leafs when it came to winning, which may have added some fuel to their showdown in Toronto.

In a back-and-forth game that featured multi-goal performances from Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and Auston Matthews, Washington ultimately came out on top with a 4-3 overtime victory.

Let’s take a look at the three takeaways from Tuesday’s matchup:

1. Johnny for Norris

John Carlson’s among the biggest names in the NHL right now, and for good reason. The long-time Capitals defenseman, who went from a promising prospect to top-pairing blueliner, is making a hefty case for the Norris Trophy early on and continued his campaign with vigor on Tuesday.

After going without a point in Washington’s outstanding 6-5 comeback victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, Carlson was right back at it for the Caps, scoring about halfway through the opening frame to tie the game at 1-1. He struck again on a second-period power play when he fired a slapshot past Frederik Andersen to give Washington a 2-1 lead.

The last time the Washington Capitals faced the Toronto Maple Leafs, the final score was in favor of Washington, who managed a 4-3 win. On Tuesday, the story had the same ending, but played out in a completely different way.

Prior to puck drop, Alex Ovechkin had some advice for the Maple Leafs when it came to winning, which may have added some fuel to their showdown in Toronto.

In a back-and-forth game that featured multi-goal performances from Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and Auston Matthews, Washington ultimately came out on top with a 4-3 overtime victory.

Let’s take a look at the three takeaways from Tuesday’s matchup:

2. Leafs power play still lacking, but finally connects

Since John Tavares has been out of the lineup with a broken finger — which also came in a game against Washington — Toronto’s power play has been far from impressive.

Entering Tuesday’s contest, the Leafs were 1-for-12 over their last five games without their captain. And vs. the Caps the same storyline followed. They were 0-for-6 on their first opportunities before finally converting on their seventh attempt when William Nylander found Matthews in the slot, who ripped the puck past Braden Holtby to give Toronto a 3-2 lead.

Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, they’ve still managed to average at least three goals per game without Tavares in the lineup, thanks to Matthews and Co. stepping up in his absence.

However, in the long run, success on the man advantage will be crucial — regardless of Tavares’ presence or not — for a longer playoff run this season.

3. Ovechkin’s still got it

Alex Ovechkin knows how to do that hockey.

That’s stating the obvious, but the 34-year-old just won’t slow down. His prowess was evident on Tuesday, as he struck not once, but twice on the power play to pave the way to the 4-3 overtime victory. His first power-play tally was a finisher on a great end-to-end effort by T.J. Oshie to tie the game at 3-3, while his second came from the office and won the game in OT.

Beyond lighting the lamp, Ovechkin finished the game with 10 — yes, 10 — shots and also had primary assists on both of Carlson’s goals. The Russian winger leads all active skaters in career double-digit shot games with 49, the next leader being Eric Staal with nine, as per ESPN’s Dimitri Filipovic.

Washington’s captain now has 11 goals on the season, putting him in second in the league’s goal-scoring race (tied with Matthews), trailing leader Pastrnak by just one goal. His two goals on Tuesday put him at 669 for his career, surpassing Luc Robitaille (668) for the 12th-most goals in NHL history.

By: Sammi Silber

https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nhl/news/three-takeaways-from-washington-capitals-4-3-overtime-win-over-toronto-maple-leafs/7tan5jwomtgx1dvq6pdrzsz3k

The best pure goal scorer for every NHL team

It is hockey’s most valuable skill and the one that is most difficult to consistently do well — goal scoring. Some players are great at it because they have a great shot, a lightning quick release or just have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Every team needs a great goal scorer to win, and here we take a look at the best pure goal scorer on every team in the NHL. Some you know well, but others may not get the recognition they fully deserve.  1 of 31

Anaheim Ducks: Rickard Rakell

With Corey Perry now playing in Dallas, and Ryan Getzlaf getting older, the Ducks’ best goal scorer is the 26-year-old Rakell. His production slumped a bit this past season, but before that he scored 97 goals in the three previous seasons, including a pair of seasons with at least 33 goals. He does not get a lot of attention around the league, mainly because the team around him has not been great, but he is an outstanding player.  2 of 31

Arizona Coyotes: Phil Kessel

The Coyotes have not had a player like Kessel in more than a decade. He may be getting older and have his share of flaws away from the puck, but he can also still be one of the NHL’s best offensive player. Arizona needed an impact player who could be the focal point of the offense, and he provides exactly that.  3 of 31

Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak

The Bruins have the NHL’s best line with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak. Bergeron and Marchand are the superstars, and Pastrnak is set to join them. He has topped the 30-goal mark in three straight seasons and had he not missed nearly 20 games due to injury a year ago, he would have been a near lock for 40 goals. If you wanted a sleeper pick for the NHL’s goal scoring crown this year, he would be a good choice given his talent and the quality of the players around him.  4 of 31

Buffalo Sabres: Jeff Skinner

After being a top goal scorer without the luxury of playing next to a legitimate No. 1 center in Carolina, Skinner arrived in Buffalo at the start of the 2018-19 season and found an instant chemistry alongside Jack Eichel. Playing next to one of the league’s best young players helped him produce his first-ever 40-goal season and landed him a huge long-term contract to stay in Buffalo. He may not score 40 every year, but with combination of his quick shot and Eichel’s playmaking, he should always have a chance to do it.  5 of 31

Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk

Just three years into his career, and Tkachuk is already an impact player in every possible way. He scores goals, he makes plays, he agitates opponents and he plays on the edge of the line. He is basically the Western Conference version of Brad Marchand. He is going to be a 35-40 goal winger for a long time. 

Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho

In just a couple of years the answer to this question will be Andrei Svechnikov, but for now Aho still gets the edge because he has done it consistently over three years in the league. He may not be a challenger for the league lead, but he is going to score 25-30 goals every year throughout his prime. Add in his playmaking and two-way game, and you have a great franchise player.  7 of 31

Chicago Blackhawks: Alex DeBrincat

Is it a bold call to choose DeBrincat over, say, Patrick Kane? Probably, and maybe Blackhawks fans disagree, but DeBrincat is just now entering his third year in the league and already has 70 goals in 168 games, including a 41-goal performance in his second year. He is going to be the foundation of the next chapter in the Blackhawks franchisee. He is also one of the latest examples that teams should not be afraid to take smaller, undersized players. Talent wins.  8 of 31

Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon

After bursting onto the scene as an impact rookie at the age of 18, MacKinnon’s career kind of leveled off for a few years. Then he blossomed into a mega star and one of the league’s best players. He is the cornerstone piece of a team that should be a Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future and has scored 80 goals over the past two full seasons.  9 of 31

Columbus Blue Jackets: Cam Atkinson

It is a good bet that Cam Atkinson is a lot better than you realize. One of the most overlooked players in the league, Atkinson has scored 35, 24 (in only 65 games), and 41 goals the past three seasons, respectively. With Artemi Panarin now in New York playing for the Rangers, Atkinson is going to have to be one of the go-to players in the Blue Jackets lineup.  10 of 31

Dallas Stars: Joe Pavelski

Pavelski was the Stars’ big offseason acquisition this summer, as they hoped he could be one of the missing pieces in their lineup. They needed secondary scoring, and Pavelski has been one of the league’s best goal scorers for the past six years. A late bloomer when it comes to being an impact player, Pavelski is coming off a 38-goal season for the Sharks, the fifth 30-goal season of his career. 

Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin

One of the league’s fastest players, Larkin finally had a big breakout goal-scoring year during the 2018-19 season and recorded his first 30-goal season. Even though it seems like he has been around forever, he is still only 23 years old and is one of the bright spots on a rebuilding Red Wings team. He figures to be a huge part of their future.  12 of 31

Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid

He already has a pair of 40-goal seasons on his resume, and it is only a matter of time until he hits 50. Combined with his game-breaking speed and precision passing, he is the most complete offensive player in the sport and seems like a lock to finish near the top in every major offensive category every year as long as he stays healthy. He has already won two scoring titles, and there is almost certainly a goal scoring crown in his future.  13 of 31

Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov

He is one of the league’s best all-around players and is an absolute steal under the salary cap. Along with his great defensive play and superb playmaking, he also has scored at a 30-goal pace the couple of years. He is only 24 years old and might still have his best days ahead of him.  14 of 31

Los Angeles Kings: Ilya Kovalchuk

Maybe this is a testament to how far the Kings have fallen the past few years, but Kovalchuk probably really is the answer. At his peak he was one of the most dominant forwards in the league and was the league’s best goal scorer before Alex Ovechkin arrived. He spent a large chunk of his career playing in the KHL only to return this past season. The Kings coaching staff a year ago never seemed to trust him (or want him), but he should be poised for a bounce back year under Todd McLellan.  15 of 31

Minnesota Wild: Eric Staal

This was a toss-up between Staal and Zach Parise. But with Parise slowing down and Staal being the best goal scorer on the team in recent years, we are going with him. A few years ago Staal looked like his career was about ready to come to an end, but joining the Wild seemed to spark something for him and he has been a completely different player, even hitting the 40-goal mark once.

Montreal Canadiens: Brendan Gallagher

Gallagher has really evolved over the years, going from a depth player whose biggest intention seemed to be rattling the cages of his opponents to a legit top-line player who can score 30 goals. He has hit the 30-goal mark in each of the past two seasons and has become one of the Canadiens’ best and most important players.  17 of 31

Nashville Predators: Filip Forsberg

Predators general manager David Poile has assembled his team over the years through a series of major trades. The best of them all was getting Forsberg from the Washington Capitals for Martin Erat. Erat was a flop with the Capitals, while Forsberg has blossomed into one of the league’s best players and an outstanding goal scorer. Since joining the Predators, he has averaged more than 30 goals per 82 games.  18 of 31

New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall

When healthy, Hall has been everything the Devils wanted him to be when they acquired him from the Edmonton Oilers for Adam Larsson. The big question for the Devils is whether they can convince him to re-sign with the team, especially as they are off to a brutal start of the 2019-20 season.  19 of 31

New York Islanders: Anders Lee

A sixth-round draft pick and at one time an afterthought in the Islanders organization, Lee has transformed into one of the best net-front players in the league and the best goal scorer on the team. With 28 goals a year ago, he showed that his production was not just the result of playing alongside John Tavares and that, yes, he can score on his own and help drive the offense.  20 of 31

New York Rangers: Artemi Panarin

From the moment he arrived in the NHL, Panarin has been one of the league’s most impactful offensive players. He is an outstanding playmaker who makes his linemates better, but he is also an outstanding goal scorer who is going to push the 30-goal mark every year. The Rangers signed him to a massive contract in free agency to be a significant part of their rebuild. 

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Ottawa Senators: Brady Tkachuk

It is slim pickings on this Senators team for goal scoring talent. About 10 years ago the answer would have easily been Bobby Ryan, but he has not been that player for some time now. Brady Tkachuk is in only his second year in the league but has already shown a goal scoring touch and is one of the few bright spots that this team has to build around long term.  22 of 31

Philadelphia Flyers: James van Riemsdyk

Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier are the best players on the Flyers, but none of them has ever been a truly great goal scorer. Their brilliance is in their passing (Giroux, Voracek) and defensive play (Couturier). It is van Riemsdyk who has been one of the more overlooked goal scorers in the league and a truly good one. In his first year back with the Flyers in 2018-19, he scored 27 goals in only 66 games.  23 of 31

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby

Crosby is known more for his passing and “200-foot game,” but one of the most overlooked parts of his career is that he has two Rocket Richard Trophies on his resume. He makes the wingers around him better goal scorers, yet he is still the best goal scorer on his team — one of the best players ever.  24 of 31

San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture

With Joe Pavelski now in Dallas and Patrick Marleau at the age of 40, the Sharks do not really have a great pure goal scorer on their roster. They have a lot of great all-around players and impact offensive performers but nobody who has really established himself as a great goal scorer every year. The closest is probably Couture, the team’s best forward. In a good year he will challenge the 35 mark but is usually a good bet to score close to 30 for the Sharks.  25 of 31

St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko

He is probably the one player on the Blues’ 2018-19 Stanley Cup winning team who has a shot at the Hall of Fame. He is lock to score at least 30 goals every season and can carry the team’s offense on his back when he is at his best. He also proved to be a big-time performer in the playoffs with 33 goals in 70 career postseason games, including 11 during the team’s championship run. 

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Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos

The second best goal scorer of his era, trailing only the great Alex Ovechkin in Washington. Stamkos has five 40-goal seasons on his resume, including a pair of 50-goal campaigns (and one 60-goal season!). The disappointing thing is that his career could look even better had it not been for a run of serious injuries (plus a half-season lockout) between the ages of 23 and 26 that robbed him of a significant portion of his peak years. Even with that, he is still one of the most dangerous goal scorers in hockey.  27 of 31

Toronto Maple Leafs: John Tavares

There is a convincing case to be made for Auston Matthews to get this call for the Maple Leafs (he has scored at a 40-goal pace over the first three seasons of his career), but Tavares is coming off a 47-goal season and has been scoring at an elite rate in the NHL for more than a decade now. That is worth something. A lot, actually. He came to Toronto, his hometown, with huge expectations and a massive free agent contract and not only never seemed phased by the pressure, but he actually had the best season of his career.  28 of 31

Vancouver Canucks: Brock Boeser

It would be tempting to put Elias Pettersson here after the rookie season he had, and he is certainly the Canucks’ most impactful player. But a lot of his rookie goal scoring total came off a hot stretch in the first month of the season that he may not be able to duplicate. Boeser, on the other hand, has shown over two full seasons that he can regularly put the puck in the net. The only thing that has slowed him down is injury. If he can ever play 82 games, he might have a 40-goal season in his future.  29 of 31

Vegas Golden Knights: Max Pacioretty

Mark Stone is the best all-around player on this team, but Pacioretty still gets the slight edge when it comes to pure goal scoring. He may not be the 40-goal threat he was a couple of years ago when he was at his peak in Montreal, but as long as he stays healthy enough to play a full season he should be good for 30-35 goals.  30 of 31

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin

I mean, come on. Who else was this going to be? There is a convincing argument to be made that Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer who has ever played in the NHL, and he has a legitimate shot to break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record. Even if he does not, the fact he is going to seriously challenge it in this era of defensive, structured hockey with goaltending at the best level it has ever been is an incredible accomplishment. 

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Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine

Laine has already proved to be such a great goal scorer that when he scored 30 goals during the 2018-19 season (only his third season in the league) it was viewed as a down year for him. He has scored at least 30 goals every year he has been in the league and seems destined to have a couple of 50-goal seasons in his future. The Jets being positioned to draft him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2016 was one of the biggest turning points for the franchise. 

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/the_best_pure_goal_scorer_for_every_nhl_team/s1__30275615#slide_31

By: Adam Gretz

25 questions for the 2019-20 NHL season

A new NHL season always brings a lot of questions that need to be answered, from the who the contenders and pretenders are, to potential coaching changes, to free agent finds and flops to identifying the breakout players. We dig into all of those areas — plus many more — as we ask 25 important questions about the 2019-20 NHL season.  1 of 25

What will the Blues do for an encore?

For the first time ever, the St. Louis Blues are entering a season on top of the NHL’s mountain, defending the Stanley Cup. General manager Doug Armstromg strengthened the roster just before the start of the season by trading for Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes, adding to an already strong defense. A lot of the season will rely on Jordan Binnington’s ability to repeat his second half — and postseason — performance.  2 of 25

Will the Avalanche match the hype?

Big things are expected in Denver this season, and for good reason. The Avalanche advanced to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago, have as much young talent as any team in the league, bolstered their depth over the summer and still have the salary cap space to add much more help if needed. They are poised to make a serious championship run right now. But with great expectations comes great pressure, and they will definitely not be sneaking up on anyone this season.  3 of 25

How will the Lightning bounce back from their latest postseason disappointment?

Of all the postseason disappointments the Lightning have had over the past five years, their Round 1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was by far the worst. They won 62 games and tied a league record, seemed destined to return to the Stanley Cup Final and then failed to win a single playoff game. They are still the best team in the league on paper, but expectations are going to be through the roof to finally get over the hump. The Blues and Washington Capitals eventually shook their postseason disappointment labels…now it is up to the Lightning to shake theirs.  4 of 25

Will Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs finally do something that matters?

It may seem like a harsh question to ask, but so far the Babcock era in Toronto has produced a lot of hype and nothing but a bunch of third-place finishes and Round 1 losses in the playoffs, including two in a row to the Boston Bruins. Yes, the division is tough at the top. Yes, the Leafs lost two Game 7s to a great team. But they should have higher expectations by this point while a Babcock-coached team has made it to the second round just once in more than a decade. That cannot continue to be acceptable.  5 of 25

Will anyone challenge Alex Ovechkin?

Ovechkin is the most dominant goal scorer in the history of the league and is not slowing down. He has won the league’s goal crown in seven of the past eight seasons and has rarely been challenged. Can anyone top him this season? Look for John Tavares, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak and Steven Stamkos to be the closest.  6 of 25

Connor McDavid or Nikita Kucherov for the scoring title?

These two have been the top point producers in the NHL over the past three seasons and seem destined to hold their places at the top for the near future and continue to compete for the Art Ross Trophy. Who takes it this year? McDavid managed to overtake Kucherov with a late surge two years ago, while Kucherov bounced back in 2018-19 with a 128-point season that was one of the best offensive seasons of the modern era.  7 of 25

Are the Jets finished as contenders?

It is just really difficult to see a path for them to compete. Their defense was already decimated, and with the uncertainty around Dustin Byfuglien’s future (will he retire or won’t he?) it could quickly get worse. Add in the fact St. Louis, Colorado Dallas, and Nashville all made big moves around them to try and get better, and this is a season that could be really ugly, really fast.  8 of 25

Which coaches are on the hot seat?

ou know at some point multiple teams will make a coaching change. It could be a bad team that has run out of answers and has no other card to play, or it could be a contender that is off to a slow start and looks to shake things up. Some names to watch: Bruce Boudreau in Minnesota, Paul Maurice in Winnipeg and Jeff Blashill in Detroit.  9 of 25

Which top rookie will win the Calder Trophy?

This year’s rookie class looks to be exceptionally deep with potential impact players all over the league. The top two picks in the draft, Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, will help reignite the Devils-Rangers rivalry, while young defenders Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes should make big impacts in Colorado and Vancouver. Those four seem to be the preseason favorites, but who else will emerge? 10 of 25

Which free agent signings will work? Which ones will flop?

Free agency is always a massive gamble, and there were some pretty significant contracts signed this summer. The early front-runner for most successful signing would seem to be Artemi Panarin in New York, while Joe Pavelski could be just what the Stars need. Sergei Bobrovsky may become an issue five years from now in Florida, but in the short term he should be solid. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Kevin Hayes in Philadelphia, Brandon Tanev in Pittsburgh and Tyler Myers in Vancouver all look like investments who are destined to end in a trade or a buyout.  11 of 25

Will the Blackhawks get back to the playoffs?

Not long ago they were the NHL’s most successful team, but they enter this season riding a two-year postseason drought and are still clinging to the hope that their veteran core has a chance to still compete. The offense is there, but did they do enough to address the defense? And if they did not, will they think about moving on from longtime general manager Stan Bowman? 12 of 25

Will the Islanders regress?

No performance was more unexpected last season than the one-year turnaround of the Islanders, going from 31st in the league in goals against to first and overcoming the free agent departure of John Tavares to advance to the second round of the playoffs. But there were a lot of red flags in that performance and the table seems to be set for a regression this season, especially if Semyon Varlamov cannot match Robin Lehner’s performance in goal. Can they find the magic again? Most teams in this situation do not.  13 of 25

Are Panthers a playoff team?

Honestly, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be. They already have some key pieces in place — the biggest being Aleksander Barkov — and they made some huge additions in the offseason with the hiring of a future Hall of Fame coach ( Joel Quenneville) and the signing of a franchise goalie. The latter was the biggest missing piece they had, and for the money they spent and the core they have in place, the playoffs should be a bare minimum expectation this season.  14 of 25

Will the Sabres show any progress?

When the Sabres started to rebuild way back in the Tim Murray era, the expectation was that the process would eventually produce positive results. Those results should have started by now. The Sabres are entering the season riding an eight-year postseason drought (the NHL’s longest) and have stuck in place for most of that time. They have two franchise players (Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin) but not much else around them. They have topped 81 points in a season just once since 2011. They still seem to be light years behind the top teams in their division.  15 of 25

What is the Hurricanes’ ceiling?

Every year the Hurricanes were always a preseason sleeper pick in the NHL, and every year for one reason or another they would find a way to underwhelm. That has all changed and after their trip to the Eastern Conference Final, they will be entering this season with real expectations. Their defense is as deep as any other unit in the league, they have an underrated group of forwards led by Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter and Andrei Svechnikov and an exciting style of play that makes them a must-see team. They are for real, and they are not going away.  16 of 25

Will Evgeni Malkin bounce back?

This is the big question in Pittsburgh. Even though his final point total from the 2018-19 season was strong, it was clearly one of Malkin’s toughest years in the league. He slowed down considerably after a fast start and never seemed to be happy with his game. He arrived in camp motivated and with a chip on his shoulder, ready to show he is still one of the game’s best. If he does, the Penguins could once again be tough to beat. 

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/25_questions_for_the_2019_20_nhl_season/s1__30112646#slide_1

By: Adam Gretz

Flames re-sign Matthew Tkachuk to three-year, $21M deal

The Calgary Flames have finally found some common ground with restricted free agent  Matthew Tkachuk. The young forward has signed a three-year contract worth a total of $21M, ending a long negotiation and getting him back in the fold before the season begins. Darren Dreger of TSN adds that like Brayden Point, Tkachuk will have a $9M salary in the third year, securing a large qualifying offer that could take him right to unrestricted free agency.

A deal of this magnitude not only gives Tkachuk the highest three-year bridge deal in history (eclipsing Point, who signed for three years at $6.75M), it also makes him the highest-paid player on the entire Flames roster. While that has more to do with the bargains that are Johnny Gaudreau ($6.75M) and Sean Monahan ($6.375M), it also shows just how good Tkachuk has been throughout his young career.

Still just 21 years old, the sixth-overall pick from the 2016 draft has now amassed 174 points in 224 NHL games and is coming off a 34-goal campaign. His offense has continued to improve while the rest of his game — most notably his physicality and ability to get under the skin of opponents — allows him to make an impact no matter the score. The fact that he is able to compete in that fashion while not taking a ton of penalties (his 62 PIM in 2018-19 put him alongside players like Nikita Kucherov, Blake Wheeler and Ryan Strome) makes him one of the unique talents in the NHL and incredibly valuable to the Flames.

Even so, this deal certainly isn’t a perfect scenario for the Flames. Not only does it keep them in an extremely difficult cap situation this season, Tkachuk could now potentially get to unrestricted free agency as soon as possible by accepting that $9M qualifying offer. The team will have to open extension talks at some point before that happens or risk their prize hitting the open market. Coincidentally, both Gaudreau and captain Mark Giordano have contracts that expire in 2022 as well, giving the team some real flexibility when it comes to extensions.

There’s no doubt that getting Tkachuk back under contract is cause for celebration in Calgary, but the new structure of these bridge deals is something to be concerned about for many teams. Introduced really for the first time by Timo Meier earlier this year, restricted free agents have found a way to create leverage for themselves as they near UFA status. Meanwhile those who sign long-term and give up UFA years like Mitch Marner are getting huge dollar figures right up front, meaning teams will have to be more and more conscious of leaving enough room to get their young players signed.

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/flames_re_sign_matthew_tkachuk_to_three_year_21m_deal/s1_14825_30089204

By: Gavin Lee

Winners and losers from 2019 NHL free agency

NHL free agency can be a difficult thing for general managers to navigate. They think they are adding the missing piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle but are often times overpaying a player who will one day have to bought out or traded. Sometimes, though, teams make it work. Here we take a look at the winners and losers of the 2019 NHL free agency period. This is ONLY focusing on free agents and not the draft or trades.  1 of 23

Buffalo Sabres: winner

t has been a strong offseason for the Sabres, who re-signed Jeff Skinner and added Jimmy Vesey and Colin Miller via trade. They also dipped into the free agency pool by getting Marcus Johansson on a cheap deal from the Boston Bruins. They are still probably a long way from the playoffs, but they took a nice step closer this summer.  2 of 23

Calgary Flames: loser

The Flames had one major flaw on their roster during the 2018-19 season in net: goalie. They attempted to address it but did so in a rather disappointing way by signing Cam Talbot, statistically one of the worst goalies in the NHL this past season, to a one-year contract. Maybe getting out of Edmonton and playing behind a better defensive team will help. If it doesn’t, it is an inadequate offseason for the Flames.  3 of 23

Carolina Hurricanes: winner

The Hurricanes picked up Ryan Dzingel on a cheap, short-term deal and also managed to lock up Sebastian Aho on a long-term contract thanks to some help from the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens’ weak offer sheet attempt was an easy match for the Hurricanes and helped them avoid a summer of negotiating with their franchise player.  4 of 23

Chicago Blackhawks: winner

Stan Bowman has been a busy man this offseason, trying to get the Blackhawks back to the playoffs, making multiple trades and adding one fairly significant free agent. That was goalie Robin Lehner, a Vezina Trophy finalist from this past season with the New York Islanders. Lehner will be a great complement to Corey Crawford and a fantastic insurance policy if Crawford is injured again.  5 of 23

Colorado Avalanche: winner

The Avalanche are building a powerhouse in Denver. They made a blockbuster trade with Toronto to get Nazem Kadri while also adding Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi to help round out their forward depth. This is a Stanley Cup contender right now and is only going to get better, plus Colorado still has more salary cap space than almost every other team in the league. 

Columbus Blue Jackets: loser

Gustav Nyquist was a nice addition at a decent value, but the free agency exodus that saw Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel walk out the door leaves several significant holes on the roster. 

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/winners_and_losers_from_2019_nhl_free_agency/s1__29539724#slide_6

By: Adam Gretz

2019 NFL MVP favorites and odds

The NFL quarterbacks’ MVP dynasty

Two gifted running backs — Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson — won the Associated Press NFL MVP Award in consecutive seasons, 2005-2006. Since then, 11 of the past 12 MVPs have been quarterbacks, including 2018 top dog Patrick Mahomes who earned 41 of the 50 first-place votes. Fellow quarterback Drew Brees finished second. So Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season — less than a year removed from a torn ACL — remains the last time somebody other than an NFL quarterback hoisted the NFL MVP hardware.

Spoiler alert: Based on the favorites to win the 2019 MVP, don’t expect this trend to change anytime soon.

Odds via Bovada 2 of 16

Cam Newton

Odds: +2,500
2018 Stats: 3,395 pass yards, 24 TDs and 13 INTs | 488 rush yards  and four TDs

A shoulder injury may have cost Newton the final two games on paper, but anybody who watched the Panthers quarterback grind out the 2018 season knows it cost the team much more. Carolina started the season 6-2 and in a prime position to reach the playoffs. However, the severity of Newton’s shoulder injury prevented him from throwing balls down field and allowed defenses to cheat up and play the underneath routes. After the hot start, the Panthers lost seven of their last eight games. Newton had offseason surgery to repair the shoulder, and he’s expected to be back at 100 percent by the start of the season. His MVP chances ride on improved play of DJ Moore, Jarius Wright and a healthy Greg Olsen. The veteran tight end has missed 16 games over the past two seasons due to injury, but when healthy he’s Cam’s most trusted target. If Olsen misses time, running back Christian McCaffrey’s MVP odds could be just as high as Cam’s. 3 of 16

Philip Rivers

Odds: +2,000
2018 stats: 4,308 pass yards, 32 TDs and 12 INTs

Rivers may be the NFL equivalent of MLB’s Cal Ripken. The Chargers ironman has not missed a game for 13 consecutive seasons. While the league has gone to great lengths to protect the quarterback, the fact Rivers hasn’t sustained a serious injury over the past 208 games is nothing short of a miracle. Led by Keenan Allen, his receiving corps remains intact and receives a slight upgrade with the full-time return of tight end Hunter Henry who missed the 2018 regular season with a torn ACL. The one constant who is missing as of press time is Melvin Gordon. The Chargers starting running back is holding out in hopes of a new contract. If Gordon’s holdout lingers into the regular season, Rivers’ odds of winning the 2019 MVP should take a notable hit. 4 of 16

Jimmy Garoppolo

Odds: +3,300
2018 stats: 718 pass yards, five TDs and three INTs (in only three games due to torn ACL)

The saying goes, “we don’t know what we don’t know,” and when it comes to Jimmy G. what we don’t  know outweighs his elite hype. Garoppolo has yet to play in more than six regular-season games and missed the final 13 games of the 2018 season with a torn ACL. So the 2019 season will be a fresh canvas on which to either paint a masterpiece and fill in those unknown gaps OR post pedestrian stats as he has through his first nine games as the 49ers quarterback: 12:8 TD:INT ratio. If you’re looking for a reason to back this long shot, Kyle Shanahan’s offensive schemes will benefit — not hurt — Jimmy G’s shot at the 2019 MVP. 5 of 16

Matt Ryan

Odds: +3,000
2018 Stats: 4,924 pass yards, 35 TDs and seven INTs

Ryan was one of only four quarterbacks last season to finish with more than 600 pass attempts. Aside from a pass-first offense, the primary reason his pass attempts reached a three-year high is due to a host of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, which turned the secondary into Swiss-cheese city, and opponents racked up early leads. So Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley (10 TDs as a rookie) and others spent most of the game in rally mode via the pass. If the defense can stay healthy, the Falcons are one of those squads that could flip the script and qualify for the playoffs one year after missing them. Ryan is as consistent as they come and despite turning 30 years old, Jones will go down as one of the top targets in NFL history. 6 of 16

Ben Roethlisberger

Odds: +3,000
2018 Stats: 5,129 pass yards, 34 TDs and 16 INTs

Without Le’Veon Bell last season, Roethlisberger led the NFL in completions (career-high), attempts (career-high), passing yards (career-high) and pass yards per game. The loss of both Bell and Antonio Brown will no doubt change the Steelers’ offensive dynamic, but don’t sleep on wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to fill Brown’s shoes as Big Ben’s primary receiver in addition to a healthy running game of James Connor and Jaylen Samuels behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. While many believe the AFC North torch has been passed to Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns, an MVP season by Roethlisberger would mute any chance of that happening. 7 of 16

Deshaun Watson

Odds: +2,000
2018 Stats: 4,165 pass yards, 26 TDs and nine INTs | 551 rush yards and five TDs

The good news for Watson is that he’ll probably compete for an NFL MVP one day. The bad news is that unless his offensive line play improves 1,000 percent, he won’t be among the 2019 MVP finalists. Remember: Despite mobility that rivals Russell Wilson, Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times. To be fair some of those sacks were no doubt Watson’s fault. However, as of early August, head coach Bill O’Brien admits he still doesn’t know who will start on the offensive line. How does this not get addressed in the offseason? Forget Watson’s MVP chances. The Texans could find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. 8 of 16

Mitch Trubisky

Odds: +2,000
2018 Stats: 3,223 pass yards, 24 TDs and 12 INTs

The Chicago Bears 2018 defense ranked first in points allowed and against the rush, third in turnover differential (+12) and seventh against the pass. Its pass offense ranked outside the top 20. So the obvious question becomes where can Trubisky improve in his third year when the top three receiving targets remain the same and the Bears front office elected to shake up the running back depth chart after averaging 121 rush yards per game last season (11 th)? It’s a loaded question. Despite an above-average arm and 421 rush yards and three rush TDs last season, it’s hard to fathom Trubisky making enough of a statistical leap toward MVP when the most valuable players — plural — on the team likely reside on the defensive side of the ball. 9 of 16

Russell Wilson

Odds: +2,500
2018 Stats: 3,448 pass yards, 35 TDs and seven INTs

Because the Seahawks averaged a league-leading 160 yards per game last season, Wilson’s passing totals were the lowest since 2014. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for the Seahawks to make another Super Bowl run, the offense needs to find a consistent passing game aside from Wilson running for his life on third and long. Wilson was sacked 51 times last season, but that total could have been higher if not for his elite mobility out of the pocket. So the offensive line play must improve, and Pete Carroll needs to find lighting in a bottle with second-round draft pick DK Metcalf. The 6-foot-4, 228-pound receiver out of Ole Miss is a polarizing brand, but Wilson has no choice but to embrace the rookie because without Doug Baldwin, No. 3’s primary target is 5-foot-11, 175-pound speedster Tyler Lockett. 10 of 16

Carson Wentz

Odds: +1,200
2018 Stats: 3,074 pass yards, 21 TDs and seven INTs (11 games)

Wentz’s 2017 season was cut short due to an ACL tear, and he missed the final three games of the 2018 season with a stress fracture in his back. The knock of Wentz is that these annual ailments date back to high school. However, when you place the injury history on the back burner and assess a potential 16-game campaign for the Eagles quarterback, it’s evident he has the talent and players around him to make a run at an MVP and Super Bowl title. One guy who will help him reach those goals is DeSean Jackson. The speedy, downfield receiver returns to Philadelphia at age 32 and should allow for Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor to enjoy softer coverages this season. Also, the arrival of Jordan Howard should improve the Eagles 28 th-ranked running game of a season ago, which should also boost Wentz’s MVP odds.

By: Ryan Fowler

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/2019_nfl_mvp_favorites_and_odds/s1__29673998#slide_1

Artemi Panarin agrees to record seven-year, $81.5M with Rangers

After the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche all made huge pitches to try and convince Artemi Panarin to join their squads, it ends up being the New York Rangers who will acquire his services moving forward. The Rangers have agreed to terms on a seven-year, $81.5M deal with Panarin.

Panarin, 27, was the consensus No. 1 in our Top 50 UFAs this season and will immediately become the highest-paid winger in the entire NHL. His cap hit is will be more than $1M higher than Patrick Kane’s $10.5M from several years ago and well ahead of the recent market set by Nikita Kucherov and Mark Stone at $9.5M. Part of that is the fact that he actually got to unrestricted free agency, but there is good reason to think he will be able to perform at a high level for quite some time.

In the four years he has played in North America, the originally undrafted Panarin has only gotten better. Setting a career high with 87 points last season in just 79 games, he proved that he could create offense with any type of linemate and established himself as a legitimate superstar in the NHL. That’s exactly what the Rangers were waiting for and have now had quite the summer. They already traded for both Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba to improve their blue line and drafted Kaapo Kakko second overall. Panarin’s contract is extremely expensive but also puts the Rangers in line to compete for the playoffs as soon as next season.

By: Gavin Lee

Original Article

Ryan O’Reilly joins Wayne Gretzky in Stanley Cup Final record books

Ryan O’Reilly has joined impressive company in the Stanley Cup record books.

O’Reilly scored the first goal of Game 7 on Wednesday to give his St. Louis Blues a 1-0 lead over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. That was the fourth straight Stanley Cup Final game in which O’Reilly had scored, something last accomplished by Wayne Gretzky in 1985.

O’Reilly scored on a deflection with just over three minutes to go in the first period.

Alex Pietrangelo added another goal with seven seconds left in the period to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead through the first period.

O’Reilly actually has five goals in four games as he scored twice in the Blues’ Game 4 win. For his performance in the Final, as well as the rest of the postseason, O’Reilly was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Blues hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in franchise history.

Original Article

By: Larry Brown