NHL COVID news: NHL to stop testing asymptomatic players; schedule update soon

When the NHL returns from its All-Star break in early February, it is expected that asymptomatic players and staff will no longer be subjected to COVID-19 testing.

The league and NHLPA have agreed on the matter, but nothing has been officially announced or finalized at this moment.

The NHL has had over 100 games postponed this season due to an increase in COVID-19 case, as well as attendance restrictions in Canada.

Based on the new agreement between the league and the players tests will only be adminsterred when it comes to border crossing requirements and in cases where players or staff have symptoms.

Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff reported that the league informed teams that more than 73% of players have tested positive at some point this season, with approximately 60% testing positive in the past five weeks. Many (but not all) of those players remained asymptomatic. All but one NHL player (Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi) is vaccinated.

Schedule update expected this week

It is expected that the NHL will announce makeup dates in the coming days — perhaps even as soon as Wednesday — for most of the more than 100 games that have been postponed.

With NHL players no longer participating in the Olympics there is a three-week window in February that is going to be used to fill in the schedule for postponed games. It stands to reason that with so many games and teams impacted, and with so few dates open to actually reschedule games, that teams are going to have a very condensed schedule in the second half of the season. They should probably expect several back-to-back situations and perhaps even a handful of three games in four day stretches throughout the month.

NHL COVID news: Asymptomatic players won’t be tested; schedule update soon

When the NHL returns from its All-Star break in early February,  asymptomatic players and staff will no longer be subjected to COVID-19 testing.

The NHL has had over 100 games postponed this season due to an increase in COVID-19 case, as well as attendance restrictions in Canada.

Based on the new agreement between the league and the players tests will only be adminstered when it comes to border crossing requirements and in cases where players or staff have symptoms.

From the NHL:

Five-Day Isolation Period: The isolation period Protocol update issued Dec. 29 appears to be functioning well in its current form. A significant portion of Players appear to be exiting isolation after five days, with a lab-based PCR test that has a CT value >30.

Testing Protocol: The plan is to continue the current testing Protocol through Feb. 3. Provided positive test results continue to decline within the NHL, and pending review and agreement by Jan. 31 by the NHL’s and NHLPA’s medical experts, the Protocol will be updated as follows:

i. There will be no testing of Fully Vaccinated Players and Staff during the All-Star break (including for participating Players and staff), unless needed for travel or development of symptoms.

ii. There will be a single test upon re-entry to Club facilities post-All-Star, after which there will no longer be asymptomatic testing, or testing of Fully Vaccinated close contacts.

iii. Thereafter, testing will continue only on a limited “for cause” basis in Fully Vaccinated Players and Staff who develop symptoms or require testing for cross-border travel.

iv. The post-COVID “testing holiday” will remain at 90 days, but symptom-based testing can still be done at the team physician’s discretion. Testing for cross-border travel post-COVID will be dictated by the relevant health authority, which is currently 90 days for entry to the U.S. and 180 days for entry to Canada.

Enhanced Measures: The current enhanced preventive measures will remain in place in the short term. The NHLPA and NHL will meet on Jan. 31 to make recommendations for relaxation of the enhanced measures, providing rates continue to decline within the NHL.

Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff reported that the league informed teams that more than 73% of players have tested positive at some point this season, with approximately 60% testing positive in the past five weeks. Many (but not all) of those players remained asymptomatic. All but one NHL player (Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi) is vaccinated.

Schedule update expected this week

It is expected that the NHL will announce makeup dates in the coming days — perhaps even as soon as Wednesday — for most of the more than 100 games that have been postponed.

With NHL players no longer participating in the Olympics there is a three-week window in February that is going to be used to fill in the schedule for postponed games. It stands to reason that with so many games and teams impacted, and with so few dates open to actually reschedule games, that teams are going to have a very condensed schedule in the second half of the season. They should probably expect several back-to-back situations and perhaps even a handful of three games in four day stretches throughout the month.

Guentzel, Kadri, Stamkos, Terry heading to NHL All-Star Game as ‘Last Men In’

Fans have voted Nazem Kadri, Steven Stamkos, Troy Terry, and Mika Zibanejad into the 2022 NHL All-Star Game as the “Last Men In.

Kadri will join the Central Division team with Avalanche teammate Nathan MacKinnon; Stamkos will be with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman as the Lightning representatives on the Atlantic Division roster; and Terry and John Gibson will be the Ducks’ players on the Pacific Division squad.

This should make MacKinnon happy after he expressed his displeasure at Kadri not being included on the initial roster by saying, “It’s silly. I don’t think every team should send a guy. It’s an All-Star Game, not a Participation Game.”

While Zibanejad was voted in as the Metropolitan Division’s “Last Men In” winner, the forward will not be attending the weekend in Las Vegas due to personal reasons. Jake Guentzel, who finished second in the division voting, will replace him to represent the Penguins along with goaltender Tristan JarryChris Kreider and Adam Fox will be the Rangers’ players on the Metro team.

The NHL announced the All-Star captains and rosters last week for the 3-on-3 event on Feb. 4-5 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The three-game tournament will feature two semifinals pitting one division against another with the winners advancing to the final.

Andrew Brunette (Panthers, Atlantic Division), Jared Bednar (Avalanche, Central Division), Rod Brind’Amour (Hurricanes, Metropolitan Division), and Peter DeBoer (Golden Knights, Pacific Division) will serve as the head coaches for each division.

2022 NHL All-Star Game rosters

Atlantic Division (All-Star Appearance)

Auston Matthews, TOR (4th) – captain 
F Steven Stamkos, TB (7th) – via “NHL Last Men In” vote
F
Drake Batherson, OTT (1st)
F Patrice Bergeron, BOS (3rd)
F Jonathan Huberdeau, FLA (2nd)
F Dylan Larkin, DET (2nd)
F Nick Suzuki, MTL (1st)
D Rasmus Dahlin, BUF (1st)
D Victor Hedman, TBL (3rd)
G Jack Campbell, TOR (1st)
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL (4th)

Central Division (All-Star Appearance)

F Nathan MacKinnon, COL (4th) – captain
F Nazem Kadri, COL (1st) – via “NHL Last Men In” vote
F Kyle Connor, WPG (1st)
F Alex DeBrincat, CHI (1st)
F Kirill Kaprizov, MIN (1st)
F Clayton Keller, ARI (2nd)
F Jordan Kyrou, STL (1st)
F Joe Pavelski, DAL (4th)
D Cale Makar, COL (1st)
G Juuse Saros, NSH (1st)
G Cam Talbot, MIN (1st)

Metropolitan Division (All-Star Appearance)

F Alex Ovechkin, WSH (8th) – captain
*F Mika Zibanejad, NYR (1st) – will not attend due to personal reasons
F Jake Guentzel, PIT (1st) – replacing Zibanejad via “Last Men in Vote”
F Sebastian Aho, CAR (2nd)
F Claude Giroux, PHI (7th)
F Jack Hughes, NJD (1st)
F Chris Kreider, NYR (2nd)
D Adam Fox, NYR (1st)
D Adam Pelech, NYI (1st)
D Zach Werenski, CBJ (2nd)
G Frederik Andersen, CAR (2nd)
G Tristan Jarry, PIT (2nd)

Pacific Division (All-Star Appearance)

F Connor McDavid, EDM (5th) – captain
F Troy Terry, ANA (1st) – via “NHL Last Men In” vote
F Leon Draisaitl, EDM (3rd)
F Jordan Eberle, SEA (2nd)
F Johnny Gaudreau, CGY (6th)
F Adrian Kempe, LAK (1st)
F Timo Meier, SJS (1st)
F Mark Stone, VGK (1st)
D Alex Pietrangelo, VGK (3rd)
G Thatcher Demko, VAN (1st)
G John Gibson, ANA (3rd)

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canadiens hire player agent Kent Hughes as new general manager

The Montreal Canadiens announced on Tuesday morning that they have officially hired player agent Kent Hughes to serve as the team’s newest general manager. The Canadiens front office has undergone a significant overhaul over the past few months following the firing of former general manager Marc Bergevin earlier this season.

Following Bergevin’s removal, the team brought in former New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton to serve as the vice president of hockey operations.

On Tuesday, they officially hired Hughes to take over as GM. He is the 18th general manager in Canadiens franchise history.

Hughes had previously been working in the NHL as a player agent, representing several top players across the league including Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, New York Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier, and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse.

“The process of finding our new general manager afforded us the opportunity to meet a number of extremely qualified candidates. Kent stood out, and we believe he is the right person to be the general manager of the Canadiens. We also believe that Kent’s experience as an agent will be a great asset to the organization,” said Gorton in a statement released by the team.

Now the task of rebuilding the Canadiens can begin. To say it has been a tumultuous season to this point would probably be an understatement. After making a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago out of the modified North (Canadian) Division, the Canadiens roster was gutted during the offseason with the departures of Philip Danault, Tomas Tatar, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, while also losing Shea Weber and Carey Price before the season began. Price has yet to play for the Canadiens this season after carrying them through the playoffs, while Weber’s playing career in the future is very much in doubt. Combine all of that with the fact that young stars Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield have not taken the expected step forward just yet and you have a team that now currently sits with the worst record in the entire NHL.

PHT Morning Skate: More on Meier, Klingberg trade spots, NHL market value

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.

• In case you missed it, Timo Meier set a new Sharks franchise record by scoring five goals during Monday’s win against the Kings. [More here, and here]

• Here’s Timo Meier reflecting on that record-breaking performance. [NBC Sports Bay Area]

• Speaking of the Sharks, check out Adam Gretz’s breakdown of their near future (challenges to stay in the playoff hunt) and longer-term future (extend Tomas Hertl, or trade him?). [PHT]

• With John Klingberg trade rumors bubbling up again, it makes sense to wonder which teams would make the best fit. It’s no surprise to see the Hurricanes listed as a possible Klingberg trade partner with the Stars, but Sean O’Leary and Josh Wegman mention four other contenders, too. Should be interesting to see if Klingberg gets moved before the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, or down to the wire. [The Score]

• Monday (right before midnight) is your last chance to vote for the “Last Men In” for the 2022 NHL All-Star Game. You can do that here. Meanwhile, PHT took a look at All-Star Game snubs, and who would be the best “Last Men In” picks. [PHT]

• An interesting breakdown of where all 32 NHL teams rank in terms of “surplus value.” You might be surprised to see how many teams are in the black instead of the red [The Athletic, sub required]

• Interesting “The Game is Global” series over at EP Rinkside. In part four, Cuyler Holmquist breaks down the “state of play” in South Korea, Austria, Italy, and Great Britain. [EP Rinkside, sub required]

• Check out Adam Gretz’s latest batch of Power Rankings. [PHT]

• Looking back, did people underestimate certain strengths of Wayne Gretzky’s skating abilities? [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Oof, you know what might be worse than tanking on purpose? Tanking because you’re just that hapless. That might just be the case for the lowly Montreal Canadiens. What a fall. [Sportsnet]

• So far, Scott Wheeler counted down his 32nd ranked (Seattle Kraken) to his 25th ranked (Chicago Blackhawks) prospect pools. Once Wheeler finishes, will the Kings be ranked No. 1 again, or will some other team claim the throne? [The Athletic, sub required]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL pioneer O’Ree says having Bruins retire jersey an honor

BOSTON (AP) — Willie O’Ree has experienced many honors during his lifetime, from becoming the NHL’s first Black player in 1958 with the Boston Bruins to being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

But the 86-year-old says having his No. 22 jersey retired in Boston on Tuesday will rank right up there near the top.

“It was something that I’ve never dreamed of,” O’Ree said in a phone interview Monday. “I was very fortunate to be called up to the Bruins in 1958 and played with them ’60 and ’61. And then all of a sudden, to find out that my jersey is going to be retired and to hang in the rafters there with the local icons and legends that are up there at the present time — it’s just simply amazing.”

O’Ree had his pioneering moment on Jan. 18, 1958, when he suited up against the Montreal Canadiens. He’ll be the 12th player in Bruins history to have his number raised to the rafters.

He had planned to be in attendance for Boston’s game against Carolina on Tuesday, but persisting concerns about the pandemic changed those plans. He will now participate virtually from his home in San Diego.

“I was disappointed,” he said. “I have a lot of friends in the Boston area and fans that I’ve known over the years. … With the virus are going on, we just felt that for our own safety that we were not going to make the trip.”

O’Ree, who is originally from Fredericton, New Brunswick, played two games for the Bruins during the 1957-58 season, spent the next two seasons in the minors, and came back to Boston for 43 more during the 1960-61 season, notching four goals and 10 assists over his 45 total games. He was traded to the Canadiens in 1961, but never made it back to the NHL level.

Coinciding with Tuesday’s ceremony, the NHL’s Black Hockey History museum is in Boston this week. It’ll make its way to 28 cities in the U.S. and O’Ree’s native Canada this season — the most cities it’s visited yet. It was at the Bruins’ training facility Sunday and will stop at TD Garden prior to Tuesday night’s game.

The 525-square-foot museum highlights trailblazers and history makers like O’Ree, along with the league’s founders and Stanley Cup champions. It also looks ahead to the next generation of young stars, NHL officials, broadcasters and women in the game.

O’Ree has focused on the future of the NHL since his retirement from the sport. And since 1998, he has worked for the NHL as a diversity ambassador, working to foster more inclusion and combat the racism that still exists in league.

O’Ree previously said that while he felt embraced by his teammates in Boston, his short time in the NHL wasn’t untouched by the racism that permeated the Jim Crow era in the U.S. at that time.

“When I broke in with the Bruins in 1958, I heard the racial remarks and the racial slurs from fans in the stands and players on the opposition,” O’Ree said. “But it didn’t really bother me. And I have to thank my older brother, who was not only my brother and my friend, but he was my mentor and taught me a lot that I would need to know. He says, ’Willie. If people can accept you for the individual that you are, this is. That’s their problem. Just go out and work hard and stay focused on what you what you want to do.′ And basically, that’s what I did.”

O’Ree said he’s proud of the work he’s done speaking with young people at hockey clinics in the hopes of diversifying the sport he loves.

“I just want to be remembered as not only as the first Black player to play in the NHL, but just an individual that wanted to be involved with boys and girls and help them set goals for themselves and help them work toward their goals and feel good about themselves and like themselves,” he said. “I think that’s very important.”

NHL Rink Wrap: Five goals for Meier, Kraken no longer mired in losing streak

Top players from Monday in the NHL

Timo Meier and some other Sharks

This edition of the Monday NHL Rink Wrap presents a challenge. After all, you can’t really avoid marinating in a record-breaking night for Timo Meier and the San Jose Sharks. Yet, with there already being a post on those five (5) goals for Timo Meier, and eight games total on the Monday NHL schedule, it makes sense to spread the wealth, too.

But, goodness, what a night by Timo Meier. Previously, multiple Sharks held the team record with four goals in a single game. Remarkably, Meier collected all five of those goals in the first two periods, including a hat trick in the opening frame. They won’t get the headlines, but Erik Karlsson (three assists, reached 500 helpers for his career) and Tomas Hertl (four assists) weren’t far behind him.

And the Sharks can thank James Reimer (39 out of 41 saves) for not needing all five of those Meier goals. Overall, the Sharks reached six goals on just 17 shots on goal, with Meier firing six of those SOG.

Brayden Schenn/Ivan Barbashev, Blues

Speaking of not far behind Timo Meier, top Blues scorers from Monday were almost as worthy of NHL player of the night. In the case of Brayden Schenn and Ivan Barbashev, the two Blues forwards scored four points (2G, 2A) apiece. Ryan O’Reilly generated three points (1G, 2A) of his own.

With Schenn and especially ROR, great results aren’t that surprising. But Barbashev’s been quite the revelation so far this season. (Congrats if you took a chance on him in your fantasy league, by the way.)

After that four-point outburst, Barbashev’s at 34 points (15G, 19A) in 38 games. He’s already easily eclipsed his previous career-highs of 26 points, set in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Hot take: even if Barbashev is boosted by his linemates, the Blues have to be ecstatic that he only carries a $2.25M AAV through next season.

NHL highlights from Monday

Footage and analysis of that Timo Meier five-goal game from NBC Sports Bay Area:

Next time your friend complains that you’re spamming wraparound goals in “NHL ’94,”* send them this Jake Guentzel goal. (Then run away/hang up before they can say “Yeah, but it barely ever happens.”)

How long can you really go without a great Marc-Andre Fleury save? Can’t be more than a month (of active play), right?

Ryan Donato, the person who scored the first Seattle Kraken goal, helped the team end a nine-game losing streak with this shootout tally:

* – Please just allow me to imagine a world where people still play “NHL ’94” against each other, ideally on a saggy couch. OK?

Thursday NHL Takeaways

Watch the Blues retire Chris Pronger’s number 44

As memorable as Chris Pronger’s other stops ended up being, St. Louis is where he accomplished the extremely rare feat of winning a Hart Trophy as a defenseman.

(Side note: it’s a crime Pronger, and while I mention it, Jarome Iginla, never ended up with a Conn Smythe. Then again, Pronger was a bit of a puck bandit himself.)

Kraken end huge losing streak, Flyers’ skid extends to eight

Heading into the 2021-22 NHL season, both the Flyers and Kraken boasted somewhat reasonable playoff hopes. (The Flyers, in particular, are spending with such expectations.)

Welp.

Each team is fairly deep into the point where fans are conflicted. Losing stinks, and watching a losing team is no fun. But every loss could help the Kraken and Flyers inch closer to the sort of draft lottery odds that might bring better hope in the future.

Even so, there’s a cutoff point where you just want a little relief. The Kraken received that on Monday, ending their losing streak at nine games; with that, the Flyers now lead the NHL with a league-worst eight-game losing streak.

In case you’re wondering, the Flyers haven’t won a single game since the calendar reached 2022. Maybe fittingly, the Flyers won their last game on Dec. 29 … by beating the Kraken in overtime.

(Things aren’t a whole lot better for the Canadiens, either, as they dropped their sixth straight loss. And that loss came against the crummy Coyotes.)

Maybe a 3-0 lead isn’t safe against the Penguins

Entering the first intermission, the Golden Knights seemed like they might make a bit of a statement with a 3-0 lead against the Penguins. Apparently that statement was “maybe a 3-0 lead isn’t so safe against the Penguins?”

It’s gotta sting a little bit extra that Jason Zucker (two goals) factored into the Penguins’ comeback against the Golden Knights. After all, Zucker grew up in Las Vegas, and there were early expansion rumors about the Golden Knights trying to bring in the local product.

As cool as that story would have been, things seemed to work out for both Zucker and the Vegas Golden Knights. It just so happens that they worked out better for Zucker and the Penguins during the NHL action on Monday.

Friday’s big story

Bruins retire Willie O’Ree’s number 22

When Willie O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019, many of us reacted with some variation of “What took so long?” To some extent, the Bruins retiring Willie O’Ree’s number 22 on Tuesday captures a touch of that feeling, as well.

That said, this is a very good thing, so better late than never.

Also better late than never: check out this great “Hockey Culture” video series. A year ago, Willie O’Ree discussed the importance of MLK Jr. Day in the NHL.

NHL scores from Monday

Red Wings 3, Sabres 2 (OT)
Avalanche 4, Wild 3 (SO)
Coyotes 5, Canadiens 2
Sharks 6, Kings 2
Kraken 3, Blackhawks 2 (SO)
Islanders 4, Flyers 1
Blues 5, Predators 3
Penguins 5, Golden Knights 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Panthers are embarrassing teams; Shesterkin carries Rangers

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings the Florida Panthers take over the top spot after an impressive week that saw them score goals at a ridiculous pace.

Whether or not they are actually the best team in the league at this point is certainly up for some debate. But there are two things that are not really worth debating. The first is that they are absolutely in that discussion for best team alongside the likes of Colorado, Carolina, and Tampa Bay. The other is that their ceiling is as high as any other team in the league right now, and that when they are playing at their absolute best they have the potential to make teams look like they are playing a different game.

Elsewhere this week, the New York Rangers are back into the top-five thanks to the return of their MVP, starting goalie Igor Shesterkin, while the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, and Boston Bruins round out the top-10 of the rankings.

We take a look at all of that and more.

Where does your team sit?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 3). In two different games this week their fans were chanting “we want 10!” in reference to the team’s goal scoring. They keep getting close. The Panthers are 8-0-1 in their past nine games and have scored 54 goals during that stretch. That is six goals per game. They have scored at least four goals in every game, including four games with six goals or more. That includes three seven-goal games and two nine-goal games. Just an insanely ridiculous offense right now.

[Related: Some appreciation for Panthers All-Star Jonathan Huberdeau]

2. Colorado Avalanche (LW: 2). They started the year winning just four of their first 10 games (4-5-1). Since then they are 20-3-2 in the next 25 games. If Darcy Kuemper gets going in goal this team will be tough to stop.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (LW: 1). Their drop down a couple of spots has more to do with what the two teams ahead of them have done lately than anything the Hurricanes have or have not done.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 4). Imagine what this team’s record would be if Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov had not combined to miss 46 man games due to injury so far this season.

5. New York Rangers (LW: 9). A top-three goalie carrying the team and stealing games. Something Rangers fans are used to seeing. This is a good team, but probably not as good as its record would indicate. Great goalies (and a couple of superstars at forward and defense) really change things.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 6). Jack Campbell turning his career around in Toronto the way he has has been a game-changer for the Maple Leafs.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 5). Evgeni Malkin is back and Kris Letang is still playing at an insanely high level.

8. Boston Bruins (LW: 10). Tuukka Rask is back, Brad Marchand is on a roll, and the scoring depth is coming around. What else do they need? Maybe a second-line center upgrade.

[Related: With Tuukka Rask back in mix, what else do Boston Bruins need?]

9. Nashville Predators (LW: 8). No shame in losing in overtime to Boston, but that Buffalo loss this week sure was a surprise.

10. Minnesota Wild (LW: 13). They are starting to get some good news on the injury front. When healthy this is an outstanding team.

11. St. Louis Blues (LW: 11). They are 11-3-2 when Jordan Binnington does not play (and 11-8-3 when he does), while their backups are dramatically outperforming him. Something to keep an eye on this season.

12. Vegas Golden Knights (LW: 7). Speaking of goaltending, that might be the big concern here for an otherwise pretty complete team.

13. Washington Capitals (LW: 10). Their slump has gone on for about a month-and-a-half now. Starting to become a concern.

14. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 18). They have put themselves in a great position in the playoff race as we near the halfway point of the season.

15 .Winnipeg Jets (LW: 16). We only saw them for one game this week but they picked up a nice 3-0 win.

16. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 14). With only two wins (and one of them being in a shootout against the Detroit Red Wings) there might be some cause for concern. By points percentage they now rank ninth in the Western Conference.

17. Calgary Flames (LW: 15). They have barely played lately and when they have they have been losing games.

[Related: Which teams still have realistic chance to make Stanley Cup Playoffs]

18. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 17). Nice win in Washington on Sunday afternoon but this road trip has been tough for them, and they have one more tough game in Nashville this week.

19. New York Islanders (LW: 22). They have started to collect some points lately but even with that and even with all of their games in hand this still seems like it is going to be a major challenge to get back into playoff contention.

20. San Jose Sharks (LW: 20). We are going to learn a lot about them in the next couple of weeks as they face a pretty daunting schedule against some of the league’s best teams.

21. Dallas Stars (LW: 19). The potential is there but they just have no consistency this season.

22. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 21). They have won just two of their past 14 games entering the week and both of those wins came without Dave Tippett behind the bench. This team has the same problems that they simply can not seem to solve.

[Related: Slumping Oilers can not find solutions to same old questions]

23. Chicago Blackhawks (LW: 24). The four-game winning streak is a nice distraction in the middle of another disappointing season.

24. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 23). Things looked really promising there for a while in the Wild Card race by the Boston Bruins have really jumped over them. This season is still all about the development of the young stars.

25. Ottawa Senators (LW: 28). They are 7-3-2 in their past 12 games and have at least been really competitive against some really good teams. The effort is there. The talent is not quite there yet.

26. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 25). Since the middle of November (or the past two months) they have had a 10-game losing streak and are now on a seven-game losing streak. Not ideal.

27. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 26). At least they won the Seth Jones trade.

[Related: Revisiting the Seth Jones trade between Blackhawks and Blue Jackets]

28. New Jersey Devils (LW: 24). Since the start of the 2020-21 season Mackenzie Blackwood has a .900 save percentage in 47 appearances (46 starts). That is not what they are hoping for with him.

29. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 29). This is going to be the 11th consecutive season without the playoffs and they probably have at least two or three more ahead of them after this season. At least that many.

30. Seattle Kraken (LW: 30). Their struggles make the Vegas Golden Knights immediate success seem even more improbable.

31. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 31). Phil Kessel can still help a playoff team.

32. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 32). From the Stanley Cup Final to the worst team in the league. Just an amazing year here in so many ways.

PHT Morning Skate: Jack Eichel return possible in a ‘few weeks?’

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.

• Catch up on the weekend’s action (busy Saturday, only Canucks – Capitals on Sunday) around the NHL with PHT’s Rink Wraps. [Saturday, Sunday]

• Golden Knights owner Bill Foley told Vegas Hockey Hotline that Jack Eichel could return in a “few weeks.” Will a ton of money on IR/LTIR allow the Golden Knights to bring Jack Eichel in seamlessly? Foley admitted Vegas might have to make some adjustments, but a lot of that seems TBD. [NHL.com]

• Jeff Marek reports that the Stars are “ramping up” their efforts to trade John Klingberg. Klingberg recently expressed his frustration with slow contract negotiations. [Jeff Marek on Twitter]

• Monday (right before midnight) is your last chance to vote for the “Last Men In” for the 2022 NHL All-Star Game. You can do that here. Meanwhile, PHT took a look at All-Star Game snubs, and who would be the best “Last Men In” picks. [PHT]

• Last week, The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn unveiled his revamped player cards, with a nifty look inspired by hockey cards. Great stuff, and I always have time for eye-friendly ways to make “fancy stats” easier to digest. [The Athletic, sub required]

• Perhaps people expected too much when tabbing Cole Caufield as a Calder Trophy candidate. But, seriously, just one goal in 26 games this season? Who expected that? EP Rinkside’s David St-Louis goes really deep on Caufield’s scoring struggles, noting reasons to breathe easier but also problems to work on. [EP Rinkside, sub required]

• Which NHL teams really have a chance to make the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs? [PHT]

• Matt Drake asks: “can we get rid of fights after clean hits?” An especially nuanced take, as this is more about officials handling them than players reacting. (Can’t really ask players to somehow determine a clean vs. dirty hit in the heat of the moment, after all.) [Habs Eyes on the Prize]

• On Sunday, PHT weighed in on the slumping Edmonton Oilers. Here is Mark Spector’s latest on the troubled team. [Sportsnet]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Boudreau’s Canucks beat Capitals; League-leading Ovechkin

Top player from Canucks – Capitals

Elias Pettersson, Canucks

Coming into Canucks – Capitals (the only NHL game on Sunday), Elias Pettersson was mired in a four-game pointless streak. Pettersson’s struggles went deeper than that, too. He only managed an assist over six games, and went seven games without a goal.

For a player who’s already been frustrated, managing just 17 points in 37 games is pretty mind-boggling. Maybe debilitating.

So the Canucks have to hope that Elias Pettersson’s two goals against the Capitals might be a confidence-builder. (If nothing else he now averages a point, er, every two games.)

Pettersson’s second goal was a nifty mix of luck and, perhaps, the sort of hubris a great player needs to make plays mere mortals can only dream about?

Canucks – Capitals highlights

Soak in highlights as the Canucks beat the Capitals 4-2 as the only NHL game on Sunday.

Sunday NHL Takeaways

Catch up on a busy Saturday in the NHL

While there was only the Canucks – Capitals game on Sunday, Saturday was a busy night in the NHL. Catch up on that action with the Saturday NHL Rink Wrap.

(If you want a deep dive, there’s also a detailed look at the slumping Edmonton Oilers.)

Canucks improve to 9-3-1 under Boudreau after beating Capitals

In the grand scheme of things, it’s far too early to act like Bruce Boudreau has “solved” the Canucks. At least this season, it seemed like the Canucks dug themselves too big of a hole to make the playoffs.

But it’s easy to forget just how promising the Canucks were not that long ago. As much as Jim Benning bungled surrounding impressive young talent with the depth needed to thrive, the Canucks retain some pieces who could be core players in a winner. And those players aren’t ancient by any means.

  • Pettersson is just 23, and his $7.35M cap hit runs through 2023-24. If Pettersson can rebuild his confidence, that should be a bargain. Maybe Boudreau can be the beacon of positivity that Pettersson needs?
  • Considering the gold rush prominent defensemen (some deeply flawed) enjoyed this offseason, locking up Quinn Hughes at $7.85M through 2026-27 ranks as one of Benning’s best recent moves. The 22-year-old’s quietly enjoying what looks like a redemptive season.
  • With Brock Boeser on an expiring contract and Bo Horvat‘s deal ending after 2022-23, it’s unclear if those two players will remain with the Canucks. If they do, they can provide some more prime years. Boeser is 24 and 26.
  • Again, Benning’s made blunders that could linger. At least 25-year-old Conor Garland‘s a gem at just under $5M per year through 2025-26.
  • Thatcher Demko, 26, could be a nice bargain at $5M through 2025-26.

Ideally, the Canucks would boast a slew of other valuable players. Still, the decline of top, seemingly blue chip young players was downright disturbing under Travis Green.

Maybe the reality is that expectations must be reset on many of them. But if they weren’t reaching their potential, perhaps Boudreau can bring the best out of many of them?

If nothing else, this certainly has been a promising start.

Ovechkin ends Sunday tied for NHL goals, points lead

Alex Ovechkin‘s been producing at a Hart-adjacent level for months now, but it’s still stunning.

With a goal from his “office,” on Sunday, Alex Ovechkin ended Sunday tied with Leon Draisaitl in two NHL-leading stats: goals (26) and points (54). Now, it’s true that the totals can be a bit misleading, as Ovechkin’s played four more games (39) than Draisaitl (35).

Nonetheless, it remains a stunning development. You also never know in the NHL with injuries, cold streaks, and sad Oilers.

At minimum, you have to give Ovechkin a real chance to win another Maurice Richard Trophy, and don’t count him out as a possible Hart Trophy finalist. Incredible.

Monday’s big story

Central Division clashes

There’s room for movement among the top teams in the Central Division, so two Monday NHL games are worth monitoring.

In the afternoon, the Avalanche (24-8-3, 51 points in 35 games played) host the Wild (22-10-2, 46 points in 34 GP). Increasingly, the Avalanche seem like they’re looking like the dominant Avs team many of us expected. Most simply, you may note Colorado’s 8-1-1 record in its last 10 games. While the Wild have been up and down, they carry a three-game winning streak into Monday’s NHL games.

Later on, the surprising Predators (24-12-3, 51 points in 39 GP) visit the sneaky-strong Blues (22-11-5, 49 points in 38 games). The Blues will also retire Chris Pronger’s number 44 in that game.

While it looks like the Avalanche are the Central Division frontrunners, those other three teams are very much in the mix. (Naturally, the Jets and Stars are also in said mix.) Monday’s NHL games could shift outlooks a touch, especially if they end in regulation.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.