Bruins retire Willie O’Ree’s jersey number 22

On Jan. 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree made history as the NHL’s first Black player, donning number 22 for the Boston Bruins. Now no other Bruins player will wear number 22 again, as the team retired Willie O’Ree’s jersey on Tuesday (Jan. 18, 2022).

Bruins retire Willie O’Ree’s number 22 jersey

Here’s video of the Bruins retiring number 22 in honor of Willie O’Ree, 86, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s game due to COVID concerns.

While Willie O’Ree was not on hand as the Bruins retired jersey number 22, he shared his heartfelt thoughts on the ceremony:

If you want to learn more about the impact Willie O’Ree made, NBC’s Hockey Culture series includes some great insight. The NHL also put together a great video sharing 22 facts about Willie O’Ree:

Back in 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s fantastic to see O’Ree receive both honors.

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 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.

Where has it all gone wrong for the Flyers, and where do they go from here?

There is no team in the NHL that brings more chaotic energy to every season than the Philadelphia Flyers. There is always a coaching change, or a blockbuster move, or a 10-game winning streak, or a 10-game losing streak lurking just around the corner. Sometimes all at once. Sometimes, like this season, all in the same season.

The Flyers enter Tuesday’s game against the New York Islanders riding an eight-game losing streak (their second such losing streak of the season) and sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. They have already made a coaching change, and barring some kind of insane second half run the playoffs would seem to be an extreme long shot. That would make it three times in four years where they finish on the outside of the playoff picture and the sixth time in 10 years. It is not great.

This season has to be particularly frustrating because there really did seem to be a path to return to the playoffs at the start. They had a wildly busy offseason that saw them overhaul their defense and trade Jakub Voracek for Cam Atkinson, while there was hope for some bounce back seasons from core players like Travis Konecny and Carter Hart. Hart seemed to be one of the most important pieces of the puzzle given how much his struggles a year ago impacted the team, as well as his upside at the most impactful position on the ice. And while he has been better this season, it has not been enough to make up for everything else that has gone wrong.

So let’s dig in a little.

The defensive overhaul has not gone as planned

This is where most of the roster overhaul happened.

The results have been ugly. A big part of the problem is that Ellis — an outstanding two-way player when healthy — has been limited to just four games this season. He was supposed to be the big offseason addition, and at the time and on paper it seemed like a strong move. With better luck, it could have been. Ellis has five points in the four games he has played while also posting strong underlying numbers, but he just has not been available to make a difference.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Panthers are embarrassing teams; Shesterkin carrying Rangers]

Beyond the Ellis injury, Yandle has struggled to find any consistency (and taking him out of the lineup seems to be off the table, at least for now, given his consecutive games streak) while the Ristolainen deal was curious at the time given his struggles in Buffalo.

The result of all of this? One of the league’s worst defensive teams across the board. Just look at where the Flyers rank in several defensive categories during 5-on-5 play.

  • Total shot attempts against per 60 minute: 31st (61.01)
  • Shots on goal against per 60 minutes: 31st (34.3)
  • Expected goals against per 60 minutes: 32nd (2.80)
  • Scoring chances against per 60 minutes: 31st (31.1)
  • High-danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes: 32nd (13.19)
  • Goals against per 60 minutes: 24th (2.65)

Those are bad numbers and significantly worse than they were a year ago. The team has taken a decisive step backwards defensively, and given how bad the shot and scoring chance numbers are it is a testament to how well the goaltending has been that the goals against numbers are not even worse.

Injuries, COVID, and regression

It is not just the defensive failures that have left them here. They were one of the many teams that saw their lineup get decimated for a stretch by COVID protocols, while injuries have robbed them of some key players for significant stretches including Sean Couturier and Ellis. In the games Couturier has played, his offensive production is at its lowest level in years.

Then there is the matter of Travis Konecny.

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

During the 2019-20 season he scored 24 goals in 66 games and was nearly a point-per-game player (61 points in 66 games) in what was a breakout year offensively. When the NHL returned to play in the bubble he was mired in a goal scoring slump that saw him score zero goals in 16 games. He has not yet rediscovered his scoring touch. Starting with that 2019-20 postseason he has just 17 goals in his past 112 games, including only six in 36 games this season. His goal on Monday snapped what had been a 20-game goal drought. It is a confounding stretch when you consider that his underlying numbers are still among the best on the team while he is generating more shots on goal per game than at any point in his career. His assist numbers are also still in line with his career averages. But he can not buy a goal. That is a problem.

Add in a lack of quality depth beyond the top forwards and a power play that is one of the least potent in the league with some of the worst shot generation and, well, you have the current offensive predicament.

It is an already flawed roster that has had some bad luck compound the issues while their roll of the dice on defense backfired very, very badly.

Time to trade Claude Giroux?

When a team is in this position in the standings at this point in the season trades seem inevitable, but the options for major moves seem very limited. Most of their pending UFAs are on defense and probably have very limited value. They are probably going to get back less for Ristolainen than they gave up for him, while Yandle and Justin Braun will probably not fetch major returns.

At forward, Couturier is probably still an untouchable, while James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Hayes have contracts that probably make them tough to trade. Dealing Konecny now would be insane because his value is at an all-time low and there are enough signs that he could still bounce back. If he does, you want it to be for you and not somebody else after you trade him too soon.

Then we get to Giroux. He is a pending unrestricted free agent after this season, is still playing at a high level that would be attractive to Stanley Cup contenders, and as the folks at Broad Street Hockey argued on Tuesday they probably owe it to him to give him a chance to win a Stanley Cup. It is the perfect trade situation where not even the most loyal Flyers fan could be too mad about it. Team is going nowhere, he is a free agent, he can bring a good return, he gets a chance to win. Seems like a no-brainer and the obvious trade.

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.

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.

Timo Meier sets all-time Sharks record with 5 goals

Hey, if it makes the Los Angeles Kings feel any better, at least they shut out Timo Meier during the third period. In the previous two periods, Timo Meier set a new all-time San Jose Sharks record by scoring a whopping five goals.

While Meier became one of five Sharks to score at least four goals, he’s the first to record five.

(Considering what Joe Thornton said he would do if he scored four goals like Tomas Hertl once did, what would he have done to celebrate this Meier record? Might be NSFW.)

Peruse some quick facts and stats about Timo Meier scoring five (5) goals to set that new Sharks record:

  • ESPN Sports & Info notes that Meier is the first player to score five goals within two periods since Capitals great Peter Bondra pulled that off in 1994.
  • According to Sportsnet Stats, Meier and Bondra rank among sixth players to score five goals in the first two periods of a game since 1967.

Timo Meier sets new Sharks record with five (5) goals

During the first period, Timo Meier collected a hat trick. First, he scored an emphatic goal on the power play. He followed that with a nice turnaround goal, and then created havoc in front of the Kings net to reach three goals.

Meier scored his fourth goal with another impressive snipe:

Delightfully, Timo Meier set that new Sharks record with the best of his five goals.

Truly, the call by Randy Hahn made it even better:

Check back on this post for even more on Timo Meier’s record-breaking day.

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.

Sharks entering key stretch with playoff race, brutal schedule, Hertl contract situation

The Pacific Division playoff race is wide open right now thanks to a couple of rebuilding teams exceeding expectations (Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose) and a couple of teams that were supposed to be playoff contenders being mild (Calgary, Vancouver) to major (Edmonton) disappointments.

With Vancouver’s recent surge under new coach Bruce Boudreau pretty much every team in the division outside of Seattle has at least some reason to believe they might still be in it for the time being. One of the more fascinating teams in the race is the San Jose Sharks, a team that entered the season with almost no expectations after being one of the league’s worst teams the past two years.

The Sharks spent the offseason overhauling their goalie situation (bringing in James Reimer and Adin Hill, but only minor tweaks elsewhere on the roster. They were mostly banking on returning players having bounce back years and the goaltending being better. So far, pretty much all of that is happening.

After having some of the worst goaltending in the league over the previous three seasons, Reimer and Hill have teamed up to at least give them a league-average performance, while several high-priced veterans have had bounce back years including Timo Meier, Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, and Brent Burns. If nothing else, it has at least made them a bubble team in the playoff race and given fans a reason to pay attention to the standings at the halfway point, which is more than can be said over the past couple of years.

[Related: Which teams still have realistic chance to make the playoffs]

Speaking of those standings, the Sharks are currently in the second Wild Card spot based on raw point totals but nearly everybody has games in hand on them.

Here is where things stand based on points percentage (current point pace in parenthesis).

  • Vegas Golden Knights: .615 (101)
  • Los Angeles Kings: .592 (97)
  • Calgary Flames: .588 (96)
  • Anaheim Ducks: .549 (90)
  • Edmonton Oilers: .543 (89)
  • San Jose Sharks: .538 (88)
  • Vancouver Canucks: .487 (79)
  • Seattle Kraken: .324 (53)

Expand that to the Wild Card race, and Central division teams Winnipeg (95 point pace) and Dallas (89 point pace) are also teams for them to watch.

So, not an ideal situation to be in, but still somewhat in it.

Also not idea is their schedule over the next two months between now and the NHL trade deadline.

Between Monday and March 18 the Sharks have 18 games scheduled. Of those 18 games they play 10 games against teams that are currently in the top-11 league-wide in points percentage (Tampa Bay twice, Florida twice, Colorado, Carolina, Washington, Vegas, Boston, and Nashville) and another five games against teams they are directly competing with in the Pacific Division for a playoff spot (four against Los Angeles and one against Anaheim). The only three games they play during that stretch against bottom half teams are two against Seattle and one against the New York Islanders (a team that is starting to play a little better).

This is not only a make-or-break stretch in the playoff race, the schedule itself is absolutely brutal filled with the “four point game” (Los Angeles and Anaheim) and a ton of Stanley Cup contenders.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Panthers keep embarrassing teams; Shesterkin carries Rangers]

We are about to learn a lot about the Sharks and whether or not they are a serious contender for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division and Western Conference. If they can win some of those games against Los Angeles and Anaheim, and maybe just keep their heads above water against those top contenders, they will be able to stay in this.

While all of that is taking place, the Sharks have another situation to watch as they continue to deal with Tomas Hertl — one of their best players — who continues to play out the final year of his current contract and is a pending unrestricted free agent after this season. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported this past week that with Evander Kane no longer in the picture the Sharks might be willing to circle back on contract talks with Hertl. Does the combination of some additional salary cap space, combined with the fact the Sharks are hanging around in the playoff race, change their plans?

Hertl also has an extremely limited no-trade clause that gives him almost complete control of where he would go if the Sharks decide to deal him.

Hertl, 28, is having a great season and is currently on a 40-goal pace for the Sharks. If they were to put him on the trade market there would be no shortage of potential buyers (assuming Hertl would okay the trade) while he would also be one of the top potential free agents this summer.

Between that, the schedule, and their hope of staying in the playoff race the Sharks are going to be one of the more intriguing teams to watch over the next couple of weeks.

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.