Takes, thoughts, and trends is theScore's monthly spin around the NHL.
American Thanksgiving has become an unofficial spot check on the NHL calendar. With just one game scheduled for Thursday (New Jersey at Montreal), the hockey world was able to take a deep breath. That was nice because the standings usually indicate something significant around the holiday.
Over the past six seasons - the entirety of the wild-card era - 75% of the teams in a playoff spot on Thanksgiving ultimately reached the postseason. It's not a perfectly predictive snapshot, but taking stock in late November usually gives us a strong hint of what to expect.
Here's what the playoff picture looked like after the Devils-Habs game:
Using the 75% rule, 12 of the above teams will be playoff-bound come springtime, while four will be replaced. An educated guess at the four clubs that will move up and claim a spot leads us to Calgary, Nashville, Tampa Bay, and the New York Rangers.
The Canadiens are reeling after six straight defeats. They seem lost and frustrated - kind of like the Maple Leafs at the start of November. Here's what's up with Montreal through 25 games ...
What to hate: The abundance of odd-man rushes allowed; a 30th-ranked penalty kill; undisciplined play.
What to wait on: The inevitable resurgence of all-world goalie Carey Price.
Six straight losses could turn into 12 if Habs coach Claude Julien doesn't right this ship. The Flyers, Bruins, Islanders, Avalanche, Rangers, and Penguins are up next. Oof.
The Blues have won 15 of 26 games to start the season and their .692 points percentage ranks fourth overall. It's safe to say the so-called Stanley Cup hangover has not hit St. Louis.
The same can be said for Jordan Binnington. Those who doubted a repeat from last season's Cinderella goalie are eating some humble pie. It turns out the steely 26-year-old is a legitimate NHL starter.
Here are Binnington's splits from last year's regular season and playoffs, and from the first two months of this season:
(5v5 SV% = 5-on-5 save percentage; QS% = quality start percentage)
Overall, Binnington's career regular-season numbers in these categories - .926, .926, .660 - are beyond solid for someone who was completely off the radar 12 months ago.
That type of deal would make perfect sense, given Buffalo's logjam on defense and lack of depth up front. But Botterill's task would have been easier a decade ago when the use of analytics wasn't as widespread. Rasmus Ristolainen, a right-handed blue-liner whose name is constantly in the rumor mill, appears quite valuable to scouts but flunks the stats test.
"We were thinking about making a trade for him in Calgary," Brian Burke, the former president of hockey operations for the Flames, said last week during a panel discussion in Toronto. "And we actually got several phone calls into this trade, and our analytics guy said, 'You guys are out of your minds.'"
Burke added, "Chris Snow is our analytics guy - he's a genius. He says don't do a deal, we don't do a deal. That's how much weight we give him. But that's where the eye test failed. The player looked better than he was."
So, if Ristolainen is nearly impossible to trade, which NHL defenseman might Botterill flip for a decent forward? Not Rasmus Dahlin (injured and a superstar talent) or Zach Bogosian (minimal value). Probably not Brandon Montour, Jake McCabe or Henri Jokiharju. Perhaps it'll be Colin Miller? Marco Scandella?
Dallas Stars stud Miro Heiskanen is having himself whatever's the opposite of a sophomore slump. Virtually all of his offensive statistics, both surface level and advanced, have reached new heights in his second NHL season. The Finn's all-around game is rather polished for a 20-year-old defenseman.
"The thing is, he doesn’t really have that one play," Dallas goalie Ben Bishop said. "He's not going to just have this flashy thing where he (dekes) everybody, has this shift where it's like, 'Wow! Look at that guy!'"
"It's like that scratch golfer who just hits the ball down the middle," Bishop said. "Then he hits it to the green, then he putts for two shots. At the end of the round, you're like, 'How did that guy shoot 1-under?' That's kind of Miro. He just does it all. He's not bombing it, driving it 400 yards, making unbelievable shots. He just does the right thing."
Jacob Markstrom is due for a healthy raise in the summer. Sportsnet reported last week that talks between the pending unrestricted free agent's camp and the Canucks are on hold due to the recent death of Markstrom's father, but that dialogue should pick up "over the next little while."
Markstrom is a key cog in Vancouver's operation, especially now that the club is winning. Nobody's confusing the big Swede with any of the NHL's elite goalies, but he's been sneakily consistent over the past five seasons. For instance, his save percentage is always right around the league average:
With Markstrom likely to re-sign with Vancouver, the 2020 UFA goalie class should be headlined by Braden Holtby of Washington, Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner of Chicago, Jimmy Howard of Detroit, Matt Murray of Pittsburgh, Jaroslav Halak of Boston, and Thomas Greiss of the Islanders.
NHL players get only so many chances to cash in as a free agent. For some, it only happens once. For others, it's twice or three times. And, ideally, a player's counting stats will peak the season before they hit the open market. Agents refer to it as a "platform year."
Well, for three particular pending UFAs, the 2019-20 campaign has been an underwhelming platform offensively.
Calgary's Michael Frolik has averaged a point every two games in his career; he only has four in 26 contests this season. Josh Anderson scored 27 times last year with Columbus; right now, he has one goal in 18 games. Frolik's teammate Mark Jankowski, who produced 32 points last season, has zero points in 25 games. There's time to rebound, but those early numbers jump off the page in the absolute worst way.
It was enjoyable to see the Rangers salute Mats Zuccarello with a proper video tribute earlier this week. The feisty Norwegian poured his heart and soul into that franchise. Ultimately, the team's timeline didn't align with his career arc, and now he's in Minnesota on a five-year deal.
The Wild, buried in last place in the Central Division, aren't yet meshing with Zuccarello's career arc either. There's time to retool, so there's no need to panic yet, but the chances of Zuccarello's trade value increasing through his mid-30s is slim. At $6 million, he's not a cheap pickup, but if he's willing to waive his no-move clause, there might be a fit elsewhere at some point as the salary cap inches higher each year. Perhaps a return to the Big Apple could be in the cards someday.
The Predators shipped out defenseman P.K. Subban and replaced his $9-million cap hit with center Matt Duchene. That seemed like a smart move for a team overflowing with blue-liners, and the trade-off has worked out well. Still, there's something about Roman Josi leading Nashville in scoring with 24 points - five more than Duchene and Ryan Ellis - that's just so befitting the Preds. GM David Poile must be shaking his head in disbelief.
Retired goalies tend to make good specialty coaches and television analysts. The names Mitch Korn and David Prior, directors of goaltending for the Islanders and Golden Knights, respectively, come to mind. The same goes for Jamie McLennan and Brian Boucher, two of the sport's finest color analysts.
What about head coaches, though? It's mighty rare for a goalie to reach the top of the coaching mountain. In fact, Red Wings bench boss Jeff Blashill is the lone NHL head coach with direct ties to netminding, whether through playing or starting out as a goaltending coach.
The Sabres' Mike Bales could break the mold. According to head coach Ralph Krueger, Bales has the potential to jump from goalie coach - a position he also held in Pittsburgh and Carolina - to Buffalo assistant, and one day to head coach somewhere.
"He's been such an asset to our coaching room," Krueger said. "The intelligence that he brings and the understanding of the whole game is important to our success. The goalie work that he does speaks for itself, but for us it's very valuable to have people like him around, in general."
Leon Draisaitl proves nightly that he's the game's foremost power forward. To date, the result has been 59 goals in 27 games for the Oilers when the German is on the ice. The Red Wings, as an entire team, have scored 59 goals in 27 games. What's more startling here - Draisaitl's dominance or Detroit's futility?
People who've crossed paths with the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder often note his inner drive. Count Jonathan Kyriacou, a former scout for the Ottawa 67's among Konecny's supporters.
"The first thing I noticed about him when he started out was his 'eff you' attitude," Kyriacou said of Konecny's time in the OHL. "He's a small guy, he had a few injuries along the way, but he always came back stronger and more determined. He was named captain of the 67's at 17, which is very rare. But it was obvious how much respect he had from the older guys in the room."
When checking out the penalty-differential leaderboard, it's shocking to find Aleksander Barkov, last year's undisputed king, so far down the list. The Panthers captain is actually a minus right now, having taken six penalties and drawn four after finishing an amazing plus-31 in 2018-19.
|Elias Pettersson‚ Canucks||4||16||+12|
|Nathan MacKinnon‚ Avalanche||1||12||+11|
|Joel Eriksson Ek‚ Wild||1||12||+11|
|Brandon Tanev‚ Penguins||2||12||+10|
|Brady Tkachuk‚ Senators||7||17||+10|
One final thing: Hockey fans are universally thankful for the existence of three-on-three overtime. There's no denying that. Therefore, the NHL should extend OT to 10 minutes. It's already excellent theater, and adding more time would further minimize the frequency of shootouts.
Making this change would, as they say, grow the game. Why not?
John Matisz is theScore's national hockey writer.