Bruins

Hagg Bag Mailbag: Digging through the Bruins' first week of the season

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Hagg Bag Mailbag: Digging through the Bruins' first week of the season

It’s another hockey season and that means another year’s worth of Hagg Bag mailbag to keep us both entertained for the year. With the season just a couple of games old, we don’t have a ton to go on about this season’s Black and Gold. But they are 2-0-0 with enough offense, strong goaltending and a pretty good all-around game that sees them able to beat opponents both good and bad.

With that in mind, it’s certainly far from an angry Bruins fan base to start the season off with the team on the West Coast and winning hockey games. Give them some time to air their grievances, but for now it’s a happy, shiny Hagg Bag mailbag.

As always these are real questions from real fans sent to my twitter handle using the #HaggBag hash tag, emails to my jhaggerty@nbcuni.com email account and messages sent to the NBCS Facebook fan page. Now, on to the bag:

Joe,

Why can the Bruins not find a solution to filling the right wing position on Krejci’s line? I know it was going to be Rick Nash if he hadn’t retired, but that was two years ago. I like Kuhlman but he isn’t the solution. Would love to see Bjork or Heinen on the first line and drop Pasta to the 2nd line. The Perfection Line gets lots of reps on the PP, so why not move things around a bit?

--David Sheedy

JH: I think we will see that at points throughout the season, David. Obviously, the Rick Nash thing didn’t pan out the way they hoped due to the concussion issues, and they haven’t found a permanent solution since then. You could also make the argument that signing David Backes was a planned attempt to fill that spot as well, but Krejci and Backes have never really found that permanent chemistry to keep them together.

So the Bruins get Karson Kuhlman for now, who certainly looks like a bottom-6 winger with a little offensive upside to my eyes. I think the Bruins have decided they want Anders Bjork on the left side, so putting him up with the top line isn’t something they’re really keen on doing that. Ditto with Heinen, who is on the left side on the third line as well right now.

They may give Brett Ritchie a few looks on the top line, freeing Pastrnak up to man that second line with Krejci, but I don’t think we’re going to see it for an extended look until the Bruins bring in another legit top-6 right wing. Maybe that’s a kid in development or somebody they trade for leading up to the deadline à la Marcus Johansson, but I suspect we’ll see a whole lot of the Perfection Line until they find another truly capable top-6 right wing option. Kuhlman is going to have to prove it to me before I’m going to believe he’s the guy.

[The Bruins] look like a more physical team, but is there enough offense?

--howie (@depo99)

JH: It’s two games into the season, so it’s not really time to dig too deeply into anything. Now if they have to scratch and scrape for goals again Tuesday night in Vegas? Then it might be time to start asking some questions. They also haven’t played any of the big, bad teams in the NHL yet either, so let’s see how they fare against them.

#HaggBagg The Bruins seem to be very high on Heinen but I don't see it, what are your thoughts on him?

--Jimmy McDonough (@jimdunna)

JH: I don’t necessary think they are high on Danton Heinen as much as the Bruins want to see his development through to see what kind of player he becomes at the NHL level. Is he a finished product at 24 years old? I don’t think so, but he’s also a guy who's averaged 14 goals and 40 points over his first couple of NHL seasons. He’s got skill, he’s smart, he’s responsible as a two-way guy and he’s still relatively cheap with an upside. They will continue to see if they can find a way to unlock more from him as a player. If it’s not there, then they have a pretty good third-line player for the next couple of years and they will move on from him when the time comes, and his price tag outweighs what he’s bringing to the table. I can safely say this: If a young guy like Jakub Lauko clearly outplays Heinen, then the Bruins will find a way to get the better young player up to Boston, and they will find a way to move on from Heinen.

Joe,

Just saw your NHL Power Rankings. The Canadiens missed the playoffs by just two points, they finished at 15 in your power rankings last year, they have the same young team that's matured a year, and you now have them at 27. Huh?

--Jim Kislinsky

JH: Those were the NHL Power Rankings right after the July 1 free agency period, big Jim. I was punishing Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens for that ridiculous offer sheet attempt with Sebastian Aho. In truth, the Habs look like a borderline playoff team to me this season and should be around 15-20 to start this season.

Are you concerned about A: Halak eventually taking Rask’s job and B: Fred’s poor bowel habits? #haggbagg

--charliework (@millburysshoe)

JH: Who is Fred? And the only bowel habits that I’m concerned about are my two kids. Everybody else’s poor bowel habits are between them and their respective bathrooms. I don’t think Jaroslav Halak will overtake Tuukka Rask for his job completely, but I think he will again push Rask for playing time and force him to be on-point during the regular season.

My question is this: Can we go back in a time-travel machine à la "Avengers: Endgame" and allow Halak to take Rask’s job for Game 7 against St. Louis a few months back? Is that possible? Too soon?

Change my mind: We should trade Vaakanainen, +2 other prospects (pick your poison Senyshyn, Zboril, Bjork, Frederic) for a legit 2nd line Winger. #haggbagg

--Roger Goodell (@rg_haterarde69)

JH: I don’t think we’re going to see Urho Vaakanainen traded because the Bruins know they’re going to need left-side help given that Zdeno Chara is 42 years old, and both Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk are free agents following this season. Vaakanainen will likely be needed to step up for somebody rather quickly depending on the circumstances, and I also think the young D-man is just scratching the surface of what he can do as an NHL defenseman.

A more interesting scenario to keep in mind: The Bruins go through this season and decide that Charlie McAvoy, Grzelcyk and Vaakanainen are developing to the point where they consider trading Krug before losing him as a free agent. Could they bring in a top-6 winger if they package Krug along with a prospect or two going the other way? Possibly.

Good Afternoon Haggs

Read your roster 2.0 projection and have been watching the preseason games and I agree on most of your projections but I am going out on a bit of a limb and say Jeremy Lauzon stays (or should) over Kampfer. For a couple reasons:

1. I don't think he will get claimed on waivers and with recent signing of Petrovic to a two-way deal (provided he clears) you still have veteran depth if he does.

2. Big Zee could probably use a breather and not play a full 82. Lauzon gets worked in for 35-45 games between resting Z and injuries.

3. We have to see what these kids got and start integrating them into the team. Prospects tend to lose value after 3 or 4 years and are no longer prospects. Vaakanainen and Axel Andersson are still young, Jakub Zboril and Lauzon are running out of time.

4. I like Lauzon's grit and he is a left shot which is where we will need to build with Zee's age and Krug's contract situation. Right side is set for the next few years at least.

One thing the Red Wings were very good at in their heyday was implementing youth and not growing stale. [They were] never afraid to move on from a player before it was too late. I also like the way [Oskar] Steen has played. He is pushing, but I think Bjork and Kuhlman get first kick at the can.

Looking forward to the real season. 

Cheers

DJ Lund

London Ontario

JH: Obviously the roster was set and it included Steve Kampfer and Karson Kuhlman while Jeremy Lauzon, Vaakanainen, Zboril and Bjork started out in Providence. I’m not sure I see Lauzon up with the big club in Boston unless injuries hit the Bruins in a big way, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Vaakanainen get the first call if a left shot guy is needed even after a “meh” training camp from him.

I just wanted to include DJ’s email because he put plenty of good thoughts in there, and they shouldn’t be lost just because the roster projections are now in hindsight.

The bottom line with Kampfer is that the Bruins want a veteran who can sit for long stretches, play either side and be effective in a pinch-hitting role when they need him. It’s a tough gig and Kampfer has proven that he’s capable of doing it. That’s value for a 7th defenseman.

#HaggBag thoughts on taking a chance on Ho Sang

--HARTMANN (@HARTMAN81060112)

JH: My thoughts are “hard pass.” If the Bruins were interested in him they would have made a claim on him when he was placed on waivers by the Islanders. He’s a skilled forward, but he’s also been a problem pretty much the entire time he’s been in their organization. I don’t think the Bruins really need that at this point even if he would be an interesting right wing candidate. There’s still question whether or not he’s even an NHL player based on the numbers he’s put up at the AHL level, and there’s definitely question as to whether he’s a top-6 guy at the NHL level.

Hey Joe,

Extended post season let down is a thing backed by stats. What can the Bruins do to avoid this and break this trend from happening to them?

Thanks,

Brian

JH: Hey Brian. They’re doing plenty to combat the “Stanley Cup Final hangover” as it were. They ratcheted things down in the preseason while playing six games instead of the customary eight exhibition games. They brought along many of their veteran regulars very slowly with guys like Torey Krug and Patrice Bergeron not even getting into games until late in training camp. They’ve kept 42-year-old Zdeno Chara under 20 minutes of ice time in each of the first two regular season games played thus far. They will continue to do as much as they can to balance “load management” and make sure guys like Chara and Bergeron aren’t overworked prior to the postseason.

But the numbers are the numbers, and the Bruins know they are going to “hit a wall” at some point during the regular season, as I wrote about a few days ago. The hope is that the true organizational depth, the elite level of their core group and the NHL’s best goaltending duo in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak will keep them from digging themselves too much of a hole.

Will they have enough in the tank come playoff time? That’s the million dollar question and there’s really no way of knowing until they get there. But recent history over the last 10-15 years says that the Bruins don’t have much real hope of getting back to the Cup Final again this season if they’re being realistic. They can hope they are the outlier, but they are called outliers because they are the exception rather than the norm.

Five bold Bruins predictions for 2019-20 season>>>>>

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Give the NHL credit, they've handled the Return to Play challenge the best

Give the NHL credit, they've handled the Return to Play challenge the best

There have been plenty of times when the NHL has been the butt of the joke in the sporting world.

There are the work stoppages that included an entire lost season.

The NHL website that, until fairly recently, couldn’t even simply give you league leader statistics when you logged on.

There’s always been a nagging feeling that the NHL acted as the inferior younger brother to the NBA when it came to national interest across the United States.

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There’s the constant, repeating scene of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman getting booed in pretty much every NHL arena when he hands the Stanley Cup off to the winner, or when he announces the first round picks during NHL Draft weekend, or sometimes maladroitly navigating through all those work stoppages of the past including the lockout that wiped out half of the 2012-13 NHL season.

There have been NHL nadirs, to be sure.

But through all that stuff, it’s clear that the 27 years Bettman has put in running the NHL has also taught him all the lessons he would need for this COVID-19 outbreak. Give the NHL credit here: It has handled the COVID-19 situation better than any of the other major pro sports across North America and that has put the league in position for a successful return to play a month from now.  

The latest news is that it will be the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Toronto that will be named the NHL hub cities as the league is rightfully pulling out of the United States completely while our country grapples with an out-of-control COVID-19 outbreak. This is 100 percent the correct call and is being finalized less than two weeks away from the 24 NHL teams readying for a July 10 open to training camps across North America.

The proper, informed option for any of the pro sports leagues was to wait until the last possible moment to decide on host cities and utilize the latest COVID-19 developments and information to make the safest possible choice for everybody putting on the games.

The league was rightfully concerned by what was happening in Las Vegas where hotel workers and arena staff would not be under the same quarantine rules as players and personnel, and therefore would have been threats to infect NHL personnel and shut the entire operation down.

At the outset when the NBA chose Orlando as its hub of operations this summer, the move was widely lauded because the NBA, Disney, ESPN and ABC could effectively isolate the entire league to the Disney campus while playing the games. Hopefully it will work out that way even as COVID-19 case numbers are skyrocketing in Florida, but clearly there has been some uneasiness among NBA personnel while watching the dire situation play out in the Sunshine State.

Meanwhile the NHL appeared as if it was lagging behind and perhaps even in danger of not returning because it was holding off on announcing locations. The league still hasn’t even zeroed in on an official start date that’s reportedly going to be at the end of July for the qualifying round games.

Instead, the NHL slow-played the process while working hand-in-hand with NHLPA head Don Fehr and a Return to Play committee with a number of influential NHL players. The league made certain to choose the safest options in Edmonton and Toronto that could maximize security, health, integrity of the game and still provide adequate facilities for players who will effectively be marooned there for a few weeks to a few months.

"We will create an environment that will be exciting, will be entertaining, will be consistent with a competition that has integrity. Everybody we’ve been doing has been a joint effort [with the players] working together to make sure we’re adhering to the protocols, which will be very strict," said Bettman, during a June program on ESPN that hosted all the commissioners talking about a return to play. “I think everybody can feel good, based on the combination of the play-in round and the way we're going to run the playoffs, that this will be a full competition which will bring out the best in our teams and our players. The Stanley Cup champion will be deserving of that crown and the most storied trophy in all of sports."

Now the NHL and the NHL players are on the verge of approving an entire return to play document, site locations, start dates and it sounds like they will even tack on a couple of years to a CBA that was expiring soon, with an eye toward steadying the ship through unprecedentedly difficult financial years expected in the near future.

The NHL has done it without embarrassing themselves like Major League Baseball did by squabbling over money, and without having any players like Tom Brady decide to go rogue on the NFL while showing that marketing themselves was more important than embracing and adhering to the safety protocols.

Instead the NHL quietly, sagaciously and efficiently navigated through a volatile COVID-19 epidemic and all the while has kept the players to under 5 percent positive COVID-19 test results with no isolation rules currently in place.

Clearly the real challenge will come when training camps open and games get played in the hub cities, and the league will be challenged to contain positive tests and avoid outbreaks while getting through a few months of playoff hockey. But it appears as if the NHL is at least going to get there to give it a try with very little complications to this point.

The sometimes-maligned NHL is on the verge of a return with zero fuss, and as much care and forethought as possible while heading into an admittedly scary unknown of playing through a global pandemic.

That is the best that can be done under the trying circumstances right now. The NHL has handled these trying times in way that’s looking like the gold standard for the rest of pro sports across North America, so those other leagues would do well to take notes and pay attention while everybody remains hopeful that circumstances will allow for the return of hockey a month from now.

Ranking the NHL's Top 100 players for 2020: Nos. 100-76

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Ranking the NHL's Top 100 players for 2020: Nos. 100-76

With the NHL getting ready to go back to work with training camps across the league set to start on July 10, what better time to discuss the Top 100 players in the NHL right now?

Certainly, we took the shortened regular season into account along with the player’s body of work prior to this year, and with a little projection as to how much room they have to grow in the future. Put it all together and you’ve got a mix of two-way centers, high-scoring wings, hard-hitting defensemen and red-hot goaltenders who combine to get the best 100 players in the league.

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Here’s the first 25 of those players as we count down from 100 all the way to 1 with apologies to familiar players like Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban and Henrik Lundqvist who fell out of the Top 100 with tough seasons this past year.

100. Evander Kane, LW, San Jose Sharks

After highs and lows during his time in both Winnipeg/Atlanta and Buffalo at the beginning of his career, the 28-year-old left winger has found a home with the San Jose Sharks over the last three seasons. Kane scored 30 goals in his first full season in San Jose last year, was on his way to score 30 goals again this season and he’s led the NHL in penalty minutes in each of the last two seasons as one of the most physical power forwards in the league.

If he were a more consistent player and more interested when it comes to defense, he’d probably be even higher on this list. He’s also never scored more than the 57 points he reached in his third NHL season at 20 years old, so it feels like there’s greater potential for his game that’s never quite been tapped into as of yet. The fact that the Sharks are truly bad right now doesn’t exactly help the glitz factor when it comes to Kane’s overall ranking, but he’s one of the best players on a San Jose hockey club that’s quickly getting old and slow.  

99. Elias Lindholm, C, Calgary Flames

The Swedish center has really broken through in the last couple of seasons for the Calgary Flames after getting moved by Carolina. He put up career highs with 27 goals, 51 assists and 78 points with the Flames and was on track to put up similar numbers with 29 goals and 54 points when the regular season went on pause this year. Lindholm even earned Selke Trophy and Lady Byng votes last year and might this season as well, though he’s a minus-8 this year as opposed to being a plus-30 last year.

Considering he’s been a minus player in every season aside from last year in Calgary, that’s something Lindholm needs to keep a close watch on as he matures at the NHL level. At 25 years old, Lindholm is just hitting the top potential of his NHL career and should be a really strong player for the Flames for a long time to come.

98. Hampus Lindholm, D, Anaheim Ducks

The 26-year-old Anaheim defenseman has garnered some All-Star and Norris Trophy votes in his career and certainly hasn’t been helped by the struggles of the Ducks over the last few seasons. But he’s still a 6-foot-3, 211-pound defenseman who's scored double-digit goals a couple of times and has averaged over 22 minutes of ice time in his career.

While Anaheim has moved on from other defensemen like Shea Theodore and seen inconsistency from Cam Fowler, the sense is that Lindholm could still develop even further into a premium No. 1 defenseman at a position where late bloomers sometimes take until their late twenties to truly find their stride. Lindholm has all the potential in the world.

97. Chris Kreider, LW, New York Rangers

The player that everybody was fantasizing about heading into this year’s trade deadline ended up sticking around with a Rangers team that values what they have in the Massachusetts kid. Kreider has scored 20 goals in five of the last six seasons and was at 24 goals and 45 points this season when things went on pause. The 29-year-old has never hit 30 goals in his career, but he’s a left winger who brings 6-foot-3, 211-pound size and blazing skating speed while being willing to mix it up physically as well.

Kreider has never been a guy who garners much discussion when it comes to postseason awards and his numbers are strong, but not spectacular. But he’s also a player who's a major factor for the Blueshirts and that’s backed up by the $45 million contract extension he signed with New York around the trade deadline a few months ago.

96. David Perron, LW, St. Louis Blues

The 31-year-old Perron’s third go-round with the Blues has been fantastic with the hard-to-play-against winger putting together some of his best NHL seasons and really stepping up this year with Vladimir Tarasenko injured and out of the lineup. The 31-year-old has 25 goals and 60 points in 71 games this season, arguably the best in his NHL career, and is coming off a strong postseason where he put up 16 points in 26 games on the way to the Blues winning the Stanley Cup.

Perron has never won any NHL awards, but he’s starting to post some solid career numbers with 223 goals and 550 career points in 850 games over a 13-year career.

95. Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia Flyers

This season hasn’t been Voracek’s best by a longshot, but the 30-year-old still had 56 points in 69 career games along with a plus-14 rating for a Flyers team destined for the playoffs. Voracek has become a steady veteran influence for a young Flyers group where the 6-foot-2, 214-pound winger stands out with his playmaking, size, strength and savvy with the puck.

He wasn’t going to score 20 goals this season (Voracek had just 12 with a month left to go in the season) for just the second time in the last eight years with the Flyers, but Voracek has 695 career points in 915 career NHL games with the vast majority of them coming with Philadelphia.

94. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks

The 20-year-old Hughes obviously has his entire career in front of him, but he was a revelation with the Canucks this year as a smooth-skating, smart playmaker on the back end. Hughes will garner plenty of Calder Trophy votes this year after posting eight goals and 53 points in 68 games.

Many would not have guessed that Hughes would have enjoyed more of an impactful season than younger brother Jack Hughes after he was the No. 1 overall pick for the New Jersey Devils, but that’s exactly what happened with the kid in Vancouver. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Hughes still has some work to do on the defensive end as attested by the minus-10 rating this year, but he’s got the goods offensively.

93. Elvis Merzlikins, G, Columbus Blue Jackets

One of the biggest revelations of the season was the performance of 26-year-old rookie goaltender Elvis Merzlikins for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who stepped up this year after they lost Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency last summer. Merzlikins has an impressive five shutouts in 33 games this year and posted a 13-9-8 record for a Blue Jackets team that wriggled their way into the playoffs and finished with an impressive 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage.

One of the reasons that Columbus might be a problem in the qualifying round of the playoffs is because of the way that Merzlikins has played this year for the Blue Jackets. Will the magic still be there when the NHL resumes play?

92. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston Bruins

Clearly it hasn’t been the breakout season that many predicted for the 21-year-old when they had him as a preseason candidate for the Norris Trophy, but McAvoy did manage to get his game on track by the time the regular season was put on pause. McAvoy was on pace to set career highs in goals and points and had already posted a career-best with 27 assists while leading the Bruins with 23:10 of ice time per game.

It’s actually a pretty amazing turnaround considering he didn’t score his first goal of the year until Feb. 5 and had just three points in his first 14 games this season. McAvoy is still on track to be the franchise No. 1 defenseman for the Bruins for a long time, and the other areas of his game are improving as he learned to pick his spots offensively. Even more important, he stayed healthy this season. That’s a big one for him.

91. Colton Parayko, D, St. Louis Blues

The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Parayko is another top NHL defenseman who isn’t a slick puck-mover, but instead plays a shutdown role while chipping in some pretty decent offensive numbers. The 27-year-old Parayko had 10 goals and 28 points in 64 games this season and was on his way to posting career-best numbers this season prior to the regular season going on pause.

Interesting that Parayko has earned votes for the Lady Byng Trophy rather than the Norris Trophy during his NHL career, and somehow he’s been able to keep his PIM totals under 20 minutes each season despite playing a big, rugged game. Maybe he could be playing with even more of a mean streak than he does right now?

90. Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers

After a strong season where Barkov won the Lady Byng Trophy last year, he was merely okay this year for the Panthers while posting 20 goals and 62 points all while barely being a plus player. It means Barkov won’t have a top-5 finish in Selke voting this season. It also shows that perhaps the “Barkov is the new Patrice Bergeron” talk was a little premature and that he’s still got some growing to do in his game at 24 years old.

Certainly, this year was a half-step for a player with a ton of ability and potential. It will be interesting to see what he can do in the qualifying round after only once getting a crack at the Stanley Cup Playoffs all the way back in the 2015-16 season.

89. J.T. Miller, C, Vancouver Canucks

After excelling in a secondary role for both the Rangers and the Lightning earlier in his NHL career, Miller really embraced a bigger role with a young Canucks group this year. He shattered his career highs with 27 goals and 72 points in 69 games and was one of their most consistent players while other heralded players like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser get much of the hype.

At just 26 years old, Miller still has plenty of good years ahead of him and will be an experienced, gritty leader for a young Canucks team that will be getting their first taste of the postseason when the hockey season resumes.

88. Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins

At 43 years old, Zdeno Chara is no longer a Norris Trophy candidate and he hasn’t been a mainstay on the power play for some time either with his 108.8 mph slap shot. But Chara is still the premier shutdown defenseman of his generation, the NHL’s most effective penalty killer and an experienced leader who works to bring together all corners of his dressing room.

The plus-26 mark this season along with the five goals and 14 points while still playing 21:01 of ice time per game is amazing for a player his age. He’s a surefire Hall of Famer once he retires and he continues writing chapters in his legacy with the Bruins.

87. Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens

The 32-year-old Price isn’t having a great season in Montreal and is no longer the best goaltender in the world. But he’s still a formidable goalie capable of greatness, which explains why a team like the Penguins will proceed carefully against him and an undermanned Habs group in the qualifying round of the postseason.

The 2.79 goals against average and .909 save percentage are much less than the high-water marks for Price and he’s no longer the guy who won both the Hart Trophy and the Vezina Trophy back in 2014-15. Injuries have taken their toll on Price and the guy he used to be, but he’s still capable of pockets of brilliance up in Montreal.

86. Brayden Schenn, C, St. Louis Blues

Another somewhat unheralded member of the St. Louis Blues, Schenn is a hard-hitting, versatile tone-setter for a St. Louis team that plays a physical, heavy brand of hockey. The 25 goals and 58 points in 71 games also speak to his overall effectiveness as a hard-working center who holds things together for the Blues.

It’s too bad the regular season was put on pause because Schenn would have had a chance to eclipse his career highs of 28 goals and 70 points that he posted a couple of years ago, but everybody will see how valuable he is now that the postseason is nearly here.

85. John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks

The 26-year-old Anaheim netminder got a bit worn out as the year went along, so the 3.00 goals against average and .904 save percentage weren’t all that impressive when the season went on pause. But the career marks of a .918 save percentage and 2.53 goals against average tell a different story, and Gibson certainly deserves credit for being a stalwart goalie for a number of Ducks teams that haven’t been all that good in recent seasons.

He’s only a few seasons removed from winning the Jennings Trophy and he’s got a long career still in front of him while he waits for the Ducks to improve the team around him.

84. Mark Giordano, D, Calgary Flames

Giordano took a step back for the Flames this season after winning the Norris Trophy last year with 17 goals, 74 points and a plus-39 rating. It looks like things are starting to fall back after hitting that pinnacle and Giordano was at five goals and 31 points in 60 games this season with just a plus-2 rating. Some of that was about a Flames team that played through a lot of difficulties this year.

He’s still playing big minutes at 23:53 of ice time this season, but his run of All-Star and Norris Trophy consideration is going to come to an end this year. One wonders if, at 36 years old, things are beginning to wind down for one of the great players to ever come into the NHL as an undrafted prospect.

83. Mark Stone, RW, Vegas Golden Knights

The 28-year-old Stone continues to be a strong, two-way forward who plays hard at both ends of the ice and sets a hard-working tone for the Golden Knights. Stone had 21 goals and 63 points in 65 games this season when things went on pause and was a plus-15 while finishing as a Selke Trophy finalist in each of the last three seasons.

At this point he’s only reached 30 goals and 70 points once in his career and has settled into something of the neighborhood of 20 goals and 60 points with excellent all-around play. He’s not a dominant force in the NHL, but he’s a very, very good player who's part of the season the Golden Knights are continually in the mix each and every season.

82. Ryan Suter, D, Minnesota Wild

At 35 years old, Suter is no longer the guy who's averaging 29 minutes of ice time per game while shouldering a heavy, heavy load for the Minnesota Wild after signing a big free agent deal with them. But Suter is still a player who garners Hart Trophy and Norris Trophy consideration every year and had eight goals and 48 points in 69 games this season when things went on pause.

He’s finished top-5 in the Norris three times in his NHL career and led the league with a plus-34 mark just three seasons ago, but Suter has been saddled with some middling Minny hockey teams in recent seasons. Even with all of that, Suter has been steady as a rock.

81. Torey Krug, D, Boston Bruins

Say what you want about Krug’s small size at 5-foot-8 or that he’s something of a specialty defenseman who does a lot of damage on the power play, but he’s worked his entire career to defy those critiques. Krug has turned himself into a top-4 defenseman capable of playing more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, and he’s scored more points on the back end than all but a handful of elite D-men over the last three seasons.

The 29-year-old Krug had nine goals and 49 points when the season went on pause, and was about to collect another double-digit goal, 50-point season as a D-man for the Black and Gold. He also stayed healthy last postseason and wound up as one of Boston’s best players throughout the playoffs, as he continues to improve as a player with unrestricted free agency right in front of him.

80. Ivan Provorov, D, Philadelphia Flyers

The 23-year-old Flyers defenseman has quickly turned himself into one of the best young blueliners in the league and had 13 goals and 36 points in 69 games when the regular season went on pause. Provorov was a plus-11 this season while adding a strong defensive showing for a Flyers team that plays a bit of run and gun and was averaging a stalwart 24:51 of ice time this year.

Provorov hasn’t garnered much NHL award consideration to this point in his career, but the upward trajectory of his game and his talent level say he’s going on to bigger and better things in the near future. Provorov is a big part of the Flyers' success story that has them as one of the top seeds headed into this year’s playoffs.

79. Sean Monahan, C, Calgary Flames

Like many of the Flames players, the 25-year-old Monahan has taken a bit of a step back this season after posting 34 goals and 82 points for Calgary a season ago. Instead he had 22 goals and 40 points in 70 games along with a minus-16 mark that was his worst since his rookie season in Cowtown.

Clearly the talent is still there and it seems like it’s just an “off” season for everybody in Calgary, but Monahan will need to bounce back from the subpar performance he’d been putting up this year after proving he was better than that. Back-to-back 30 goal seasons indicate he’s capable of much more at both ends of the ice.

78. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers

The 27-year-old Nugent-Hopkins has settled into a pretty good niche with the Oilers after never quite living up to being the No. 1 overall pick in Edmonton. They’re kind of used to that there. RNH had 22 goals and 61 points in 65 games this season  and had career highs of 28 goals and 69 points last season for the Oilers while playing more wing than center.

It certainly seems like he’s a player who has settled into a role for Edmonton where he’s valued and productive, and that’s a good thing for both him and for his hockey club. In addition, Nugent-Hopkins was a plus-1 this year while both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were minus players, so clearly he’s doing a bit of a better job of playing at both ends.

77. Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers

The 23-year-old Ekblad appeared on the road to superstardom when he won the Calder Trophy as an 18-year-old defenseman for the Panthers with the size, strength and athletic gifts needed to be a franchise No. 1 D-man. And he’s been a pretty strong player at both ends while registering double-digit goals each season, averaging over 22 minutes of ice time per game and staying fairly healthy at a position where the physical toll is heavy.

But he also seemed to take a half-step back this year with five goals and 41 points in 67 games for a Panthers team that’s been languishing outside of the playoffs for years. Perhaps it’s a necessary transformation into a winning type of D-man under head coach Joel Quenneville, but it doesn’t feel like it was Ekblad’s best this season either.

76. Ryan O’Reilly, C, St. Louis Blues

O’Reilly jumped up in the rankings with his playoff performance last year when he captured the Conn Smythe after St. Louis won the Cup. O’Reilly outplayed Patrice Bergeron in the Stanley Cup Final and he fittingly won the Selke Trophy last season.

He wasn’t as offensively dominant this year with 12 goals and 61 points in 71 games along with a plus-11 rating, but he’s still playing his steady, smart two-way game all over the rink. The eight goals and 23 points in 26 playoff games last spring really show that O’Reilly has got it when it matters most, so the 29-year-old will continue rising up the rankings as long as he’s a playoff performer with solid regular season credentials.