As the NHL regular season winds down, we like to reflect on what has happened since October. Teams and pundits go into each season with certain expectations and each season comes with surprises, both good and bad.
So this week, we’re looking at the biggest surprises from the regular season. No surprise, there’s more bad than good.
I was all in on Phil Kessel enjoying his first 40-goal season. A player still in his prime (a) leaves what, for him, was a hellish media crush in Toronto to join Pittsburgh, a team where he’d be the third-most famous person at best; and (b) is guaranteed to play with a future Hall of Fame superstar center still in his prime, be it Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. And yet, the goals haven’t piled up for Phil the Thrill. The uninspired Kessel we saw last season somehow crept onto the flight to Pittsburgh and returned for this season – with even worse numbers. The problem to me is Kessel’s lack of versatility. He has that tremendous wrist shot he likes to snap on the short side, but he can’t do a whole lot else. Kessel one-timer goals or slap-shot goals are rarities. I have to give credit to the pundits who predicted Kessel wasn’t a natural fit with Crosby or Malkin because Kessel likes to carry the puck more than most snipers. I figured it wouldn’t matter – come on, it’s Crosby and Malkin! – but I was wrong, evidently. (Matt Larkin)
Johnny Gaudreau is going to get P.A.I.D. as a restricted free agent this off-season. The Calgary Flames would be wise to forget about a bridge contract. He’s established himself as their most dynamic young player since Jarome Iginla first burst on the scene.
Calgary’s front office does have an unusual amount of leverage for a player in Gaudreau’s situation, as he’s exempt from offer sheets. But Gaudreau has earned a good-faith gesture at this point. A contract akin to Vladimir Tarasenko’s eight-year, $60-million pact seems spot-on. Tarasenko was 23 when he signed his extension and had played 179 games, racking up 66 goals and 135 points. ‘Johnny Hockey,’ who turns 23 in August, has 52 goals and 136 points in 153 games. He’s been more productive on a weaker team. Even if the lack of an offer sheet creates a slight discount, we should book him for a Tarasenko-esque deal.
The much tougher contract situation to read this off-season? That of Gaudreau’s centerman and fellow RFA Sean Monahan. Will he cash in as big as Johnny Hockey?
The Flames have yet to come to terms with restricted free agent-to-be Johnny Gaudreau, but there’s no reason for Calgary GM Brad Treliving to worry about a potential offer sheet coming down and forcing the Flames’ hand.
During TSN’s Insider Trading, Bob McKenzie reported that Gaudreau, 22, will not be eligible to ink an offer sheet this off-season as he has not played the necessary amount of games. Though Gaudreau will have completed his three-year, entry-level deal at the end of 2015-16, the first year of his deal ticked off when he appeared in one game at the end of the 2013-14 season.
Because Gaudreau went from the NHL to the World Championship — not the AHL — and failed to play 10 professional games in his first season, it did not count as a year of professional experience. In order to earn one year of experience, Gaudreau would have had to play 10 games total between the NHL and AHL. Gaudreau signed his entry-level deal as a 20-year-old, meaning he needs three years experience to become eligible for Group 2 Free Agency and also earn arbitration rights. Read more
Par Marts has a dream and it involves the Toronto Marlies getting shocked in the first round of the American League playoffs. Because that’s the only way the Swedish national team coach is going to get his hands on William Nylander for the World Championship.
With Marts and Swedish GM Peter Popovic on hand Monday night, Nylander gave them reason to salivate, registering his second multi-point game with a three-point effort in a 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames. It gave Nylander five points in his past two games and established Nylander, the No. 2 prospect in THN’s annual Future Watch edition behind future Arizona Coyote Dylan Strome, as a future go-to offensive force for the Leafs. (Future Watch can be purchased on-line by going to: https://secure.thehockeynews.com/online-store/?&utm_source=thehockeynews.com&utm_medium=digital_edition&utm_campaign=mag_site_links)
Los Angeles Kings left winger Milan Lucic is among this summer’s top potential unrestricted free agents. The 27-year-old power forward is enjoying a fine season with the Kings, on pace for a 20-goal, 55-point campaign.
Lucic is completing a three-year, $18-million contract, earning $6.5 million in actual salary this season. On March 8, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported Lucic’s agent and Kings management exchanged contract proposals. He also said they’re in the early stages of talks which could take a while, pointing out how long it took the Kings to re-sign Anze Kopitar earlier this season.
It was a trade that flew under the radar, but Niklas Backstrom, the longtime Minnesota Wild netminder, was dealt to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline along with a sixth-round pick in exchange for David Jones. And now, after more than a year watching from the sidelines, Backstrom is set to see some game action.
Backstrom, 38, last played an NHL game more than 14 months ago. While with the Wild, Backstrom allowed six goals against on 35 shots against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 51 minutes of action and he never saw the Minnesota net again. Instead, the Wild kept Backstrom up with the team, scratched him for each game and seemed content for the final season of his three-year, $10.25-million deal to tick off without him so much as seeing a single second of game action.
However, the trade to Calgary has offered Backstrom a new opportunity and it appears at least one more NHL game as the Flames are set to give him the start Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens. Read more
Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman won’t look back on the 2015-16 campaign fondly. Already, he has scored at one of the lowest rates of his career, watched his minutes dip and was handed a 20-game suspension that he served 19 games of before an arbitrator reduced it to a 10-game ban. Now, three games after returning from suspension, he’s suffered an upper-body injury that might knock him out of the lineup for a significant period of time.
Wednesday night against the Winnipeg Jets, Wideman started a rush that led to a Flames goal, but he collided with teammate Joe Colborne behind the net as Michael Frolik was knocking the puck home. Frolik and teammates celebrated, but the celebration was quickly halted when the Flames realized Wideman was writhing in the far corner: Read more
It’s hard to say where the Calgary Flames would be right now with better goaltending, but one thing is for certain: this season has been an ugly one for Flames netminders.
Calgary has had troubles almost from the outset of the season. Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo duelled back and forth to begin the year with neither goaltender able to gain the confidence of the coaching staff, Ramo ended up in the AHL before an injury to Hiller resulted in Ramo heading back up and Joni Ortio, thought to be a solid backup option, stumbled and ended up in the AHL as well without a single team putting a waiver claim in on the young netminder. Statistically, too, things were not promising.
With 14 games remaining in the season, the Flames are a near lock to finish with the worst 5-on-5 save percentage of any team in the league. Currently, Calgary’s netminders have combined for a .913 SP at 5-on-5, which would be the worst team SP at five a side of any team in the league. And while it’s not as if the Flames have no company at the bottom — Carolina, Edmonton, Dallas and Montreal are all within .005 of Calgary — it’s clear that any playoff hope GM Brad Treliving had for his squad this season died between the pipes. He doesn’t want that to be the case again. Read more