January 5 — Plots, Panthers & Making Moves for Merkley

Yesterday’s NHL Scores

Last Night’s News 📰

VESEY GETS EXTENSION: On Wednesday, the New York Rangers announced that forward Jimmy Vesey received a two-year contract extension with an average annual value (AAV) of $800,000. He has 12 points in 38 games this season and plays a defensive role in the bottom six. His upside and presence on special teams make this a low-risk, high-reward signing for the Rangers. 

CANADA VS CZECHIA FOR GOLD: Canada and Czechia will battle for gold tonight to wrap up the 2023 World Junior Championship. Canada secured its place with a 6-2 win over the United States, while Czechia reached its first final since 2001 by edging Sweden in a 2-1 overtime thriller.

WEDDING BELLS: This holiday season brought about at least one newly engaged NHL couple, as Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly and Canadian Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Tessa Virtue announced their engagement. Congratulations to the skating sweethearts!

KNIGHTS TO THE RESCUE: Jack Eichel and Paul Cotter could return to the lineup for the Vegas Golden Knights against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight after both forwards missed extensive time due to injury. Eichel has missed 11 straight games due to a lower-body injury sustained on Dec. 3, while Cotter has been on the sidelines for the past eight. Vegas could also get Jonathan Marchessault back by the end of the week after he skated in a noncontact jersey on Wednesday.

ALL PATCHED UP: Max Pacioretty was activated from the injured nonroster list yesterday and could make his season debut tonight for the Carolina Hurricanes. Originally projected to be out for six months following surgery on his Achilles tendon on Aug. 10, Pacioretty is a month ahead of schedule in his recovery.

NOMINATIONS ARE OPEN: Nominations for Kraft Hockeyville 2023 are now open through 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 19. Communities across Canada will vie to win $250,000 toward arena upgrades and the opportunity to host an NHL preseason game.

Top Shelf Thursday – Top Second Half Storylines

It is crazy to think that we are approaching the halfway mark of the 2022-23 season. There has been no shortage of storylines through the first few months, including the emergence of Tage Thompson and the Boston Bruins‘ impressive home record. Now is as good a time as any to break down a few significant plots fans should pay attention to for the remainder of the season. Let’s dive in! 

Who Has the Best Chance at Bedard?

Many fans feel that their team deserves to draft Connor Bedard—the 17-year-old generational talent—who would most likely make an immediate impact for whatever team is lucky enough to select him. Leading the way are the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, and Columbus Blue Jackets, who have struggled immensely this season and have the best chances of landing Bedard. 

Will New Jersey Make the Playoffs?

There was no bigger surprise at the start of the 2022-23 season than the New Jersey Devils. They had a historic 13-1-0 record in November, which set an NHL record for the most wins that month (13). Since that magical run, the team cooled off, going 4-7-2 in December and dropping to second place in a tight Metropolitan Division. Some believe the Devils will fall out of a playoff spot over the next couple of months, while others maintain they will right the ship and find their earlier success. Regardless of the outcome, this will keep fans intrigued. 

Head coach Lindy Ruff, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Can Jason Robertson Keep Up His Current Production?

Dallas Stars forward Jason Robertson has been nothing short of fantastic this season. His 55 points in 40 games have him in the Hart Trophy conversation, as the 23-year-old has been a top point earner along with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, surprising many around the NHL. Will he represent Dallas at the NHL Awards and receive the league’s highest honor? Stay tuned, Stars fans, stay tuned. 

Are Patrick Kane’s Days in Chicago Numbered?

One of the biggest names to watch as the trade deadline approaches is Chicago Blackhawks forward, Patrick Kane. He has spent his entire career in the Windy City, but that partnership appears to be ending. Multiple teams are already rumored to be in on the former Stanley Cup champion, but will Chicago pull the trigger? Blackhawks fans, get your tissues ready because an end of an era could be near. 

Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Real or Fake: Florida Panthers

This weekly segment looks at a notable, eye-opening trend in the league, be it an individual or team performance, and examines whether it’s real or if it’s more likely an aberration that should correct itself over time.

In our segment yesterday on NHL clubs that may, shall we say, commit less energy toward winning this year in light of Connor Bedard’s World Juniors performance, you might have noticed we neglected to mention the Florida Panthers. With 38 points in 39 games and more losses than wins, the Cats certainly fit the bill of an emerging seller, but it’s just so hard to reconcile the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners as a contender for the No. 1 overall pick.

So, what’s going on in South Florida? Are these the real Panthers we’re seeing?

Real: Goaltending

Sergei Bobrovsky has won two Vezina trophies and even finished top-three in Hart voting one year. Unfortunately, the 34-year-old might not be a good netminder anymore. Last season, he got propped up by an elite team around him. However, Bobrovsky’s four-year tenure with the Panthers has produced a goals-against average (GAA) at a shade under 3.00 and a save percentage (SV%) slightly over .900. His current numbers (3.32 GAA and .894 SV%) may be closer to an accurate representation of his current level of play than anyone with the organization cares to admit.

Fake: Following the Flames?

Florida will remain inextricably linked to the Calgary Flames for some time, thanks to the blockbuster trade between the teams this past summer. Like the Panthers, Calgary looked out of sorts for a while post-trade. More recently, however, the Flames seem to have figured things out, sporting a 5-2-1 record in their past eight games. Optimistically, maybe the Calgary blueprint applies here, and achieving chemistry is taking the Panthers a little more time.

Real: Tkachuk Coming as Advertised

Speaking of the offseason blockbuster, is it possible for the performance of Matthew Tkachuk to be encouraging and maddening all at once? Statistically, the 25-year-old has been an absolute force, with 20 goals and 47 points in 36 games. But if Tkachuk is rolling, shouldn’t he be making the team a little better? Furthermore, if your best player performs like it, how much improvement can you expect to affect otherwise?

Merkley’s New Home?

One of the more surprising NHL news came when one of the San Jose Sharks’ top prospects, defenseman Ryan Merkley, requested a trade. San Jose is reportedly working to accommodate the request, and it shouldn’t be too hard, considering Merkley is a 22-year-old, former first-round draft pick. He has six points in 39 NHL career games and 14 points in 30 games for the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL this season. Although he will be a restricted free agent following the season, some teams may be eager to expedite his development. Here are some organizations that could be a fit. 

Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver is a team that is close to a full-scale rebuild, and that includes its blue line. With a pair of intriguing defense prospects in their system, like Christian Wolanin and Kirill Kudryavtsev, and the young talents already on their team, such as Jack Rathbone and Quinn Hughes, the Canucks may want to add Merkley in the mix to see how he fits. Vancouver has the third-worst defense in the league and the third-worst record in the Pacific Division, so any change is a good change

Arizona Coyotes

Even though the Arizona Coyotes are progressing with their rebuild, their defense still needs work. While they have some veterans like Shayne Gostisbehere and Patrik Nemeth, they could use some more young talent to pair with J.J. Moser and Juuso Välimäki. Understandably, the Coyotes have focused on forwards when building their prospect pool over the past couple of years. But the lack of defense prospects could hurt them, especially if top defenseman Jakob Chychrun gets his trade request granted. Taking a chance on Merkley would instantly give Arizona the needed depth and youth on its blue line.

Ottawa Senators

Although the Ottawa Senators acquired big-time forwards like Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat, the defense was always a lingering question mark. But their defense core is young, developing, and full of potential. With talents like Erik Brännström, Thomas Chabot, and Jake Sanderson, Merkley could immediately fit in with such an up-and-coming group. Plus, the Senators have been trying to trade 31-year-old defenseman Nikita Zaitsev since this past summer. San Jose and Ottawa could help each other by moving two players who need a change of scenery. 

NHL Standings

NHL’s Leading Scorers

Today’s NHL Schedule