New deal for Lars Eller is another reasonable gamble by Habs GM Marc Bergevin

Adam Proteau
Lars Eller (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Canadiens locked up center Lars Eller to a four-year, $14-million contract extension Thursday, avoiding a Friday arbitration date that could’ve poisoned the waters between the team and the 25-year-old center. It’s not a bargain signing at this stage in Eller’s career, but it’s another one of GM Marc Bergevin’s reasonable gambles.

Eller’s $3.5 annual average value is a massive raise on the $1.325-million he earned in each of the previous two seasons – and far more than the $1.65 million salary the Habs suggested he receive prior to the arbitration meeting – but Bergevin had to do it if he was going to buy the first two years of unrestricted free agency away from Eller. Bergevin has given Eller the same contract he gave to Montreal center David Desharnais last summer and is clearly projecting bigger and better things for the Danish native, who struggled during the regular season (12 goals and 26 points in 77 games) but was a solid contributor for the Canadiens in the playoffs, finishing second in points (13) behind P.K. Subban.

Once again, an NHL team has shown arbitration is a true last resort. It would’ve been more financially prudent to put Eller through an emotional wringer and come away with a smaller salary for him, but the damage it would’ve inflicted on his psyche wouldn’t be worth it. Now they have a happy player determined to atone for his poor regular season – and if he doesn’t fit into their long-term plans, the contract isn’t outrageous enough for him to be untradeable. Read more

Buffalo Sabres sign Andre Benoit, ease pressure on blueline kids

Ryan Kennedy
Andre-Benoit

In a few years, the Buffalo blueline will be run by players such as Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Jake McCabe and Mark Pysyk. The hope of course, is that the Sabres will be a playoff team by then, helped up front by names such as Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons and perhaps Connor McDavid. But in order to get that organic progression, the organization must ensure that those current youngsters don’t get squashed by pressure and expectations along the way.

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Quick question: what the heck are the Avalanche doing with Ryan O’Reilly?

Adam Proteau
Ryan O'Reilly (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The Colorado Avalanche are coming off a season that gave their fans legitimate hope the team could return to its heyday as one of the NHL’s powerhouse franchises. But their bizarre treatment of center Ryan O’Reilly is casting a shadow over some of that success. Indeed, their ongoing dealings with O’Reilly are quickly becoming a textbook case of how to alienate young talent and ensure they depart at their first opportunity.

The details of the arbitration case between the Avs and O’Reilly – first reported Monday by THN’s Ken Campbell – are troubling: O’Reilly is asking for $6.75 million on a one-year contract, but the team is offering a $5.525 million salary. That’s right, the Avs’ leading goal-scorer last season (who set personal bests on offense with 28 goals and 64 points in 80 games) and one of the NHL’s more highly-regarded young two-way players is being asked to take a 15 percent pay cut (the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement) at a time when the salary cap continues to rise and when Colorado has already lost one of its other talented centers (Paul Stastny) for nothing.

Of course, in every arbitration case, the team comes in with a lower number than they’re likely willing to settle for, and the player does the same on the higher end. The Avalanche would argue O’Reilly’s last contract had an average annual value of $5 million per season, meaning their proposal would be a raise of sorts. But that’s spin. The reality is, when the Avs matched the offer sheet the 23-year-old signed (for two years and $10-million) with the Calgary Flames after the 2012-13 lockout ended, O’Reilly became a $6.5-million-per-season player for them in the final year of that deal. The Avalanche might not have liked it – and clearly, they don’t value O’Reilly’s skills the way Calgary did – but by retaining the asset, they had to know what it would mean to now ask O’Reilly to take a haircut down the line, especially when he’s come as advertised and continued to improve. Ostensibly, you’re telling him that, no matter what he did last season, or what he’ll continue to do for them in the years to come, they see him at a certain financial slot. Read more

Ryan Johansen’s stare-down with Blue Jackets could have negative effect

Johansen

News and views from the meager scraps left by the hockey world in a very slow middle of July:

News: Columbus Blue Jackets president John Davidson says the organization is trying to figure out, “the right thing to do,” when it comes to restricted free agent Ryan Johansen.

Views: After scoring 33 goals in the regular season and being a force for the Blue Jackets in the playoffs, Johansen has earned the right to demand a long-term contract for as much money as he wants. But the fact remains that he would have earned that right even if he had been half as good as he was last season. It’s free agency and any player can ask for whatever he thinks he’s worth. Read more

Dmitry Kulikov re-signs with Florida, but his Panthers career may still end before his contract does

Adam Proteau
Dmitry Kulikov (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Panthers signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year, $13-million contract Friday, finishing one of the final pieces of team business for GM Dale Tallon this summer. (Only fellow restricted free agent Jimmy Hayes still needs a new contract.) But given the trade rumors that surrounded Kulikov and that franchise’s history of consistent and widespread roster turnover, his long-term future in Florida hardly is secure.

This isn’t a personal slight against Kulikov. As noted on THN.com a couple weeks ago, many veterans never finish the contracts they sign. Kulikov is just 23, but in his four NHL seasons with Florida there’s been an underlying sense of dissatisfaction with him. Although his possession numbers are solid and he logged the second-most time-on-ice (21:41) of any Panther last year, he hasn’t been a standout at either end of the ice in the way some people believe a first round draft pick should. And the specter of him going home to play in the Kontinental League has complicated matters, despite his consistent denials. All those factors combined to create the sense Kulikov could be an ex-Panther at any moment.

Florida’s new commitment to him allays some of those fears, but the pressure on the Panthers and their boosted payroll to make the playoffs means that few of their players – other than those Tallon has bestowed with virtually untradeable deals (hello, Willie Mitchell!) – will be safe if the team struggles. Read more

These five unrestricted free agents can still help an NHL team

Adam Proteau
Daniel Winnik (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

Some two weeks after the beginning of unrestricted free agency, the NHL’s pool of talent-for-hire has shrunken considerably. Players raced to sign for as much money and/or term as possible in the first few days of the month, and since then, the pace of signings has slowed to a trickle. Some players may choose to wait the rest of the summer and into training camp to see if trades and/or injuries open up a roster spot and/or a better salary.

That said, there are still players out there who have something to contribute. My colleague Ken Campbell assembled a list of them in early July, but all but three players on it – veteran winger Daniel Alfredsson (who will return to Detroit or retire), two-time Stanley Cup-winner Dustin Penner and Devin Setoguchi – have been taken off the market after agreeing to new deals. So who’s left? In no particular order, here are five UFA players who can help a team:

1. Lee Stempniak, RW. The soon-to-be-32-year-old has bounced around the league since he broke in with the Blues in 2004-05 – and while he’ll never be mistaken for Alex Ovechkin, he’s about as reliable a 10-15-goal-scorer as you’ll find in the league. He’ll also come significantly cheaper than the $2.5 million he’s earned in each of the past two seasons. Read more

Nashville signs Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy, but were they the right moves?

Ryan Kennedy
Mike-Ribeiro

The Nashville Predators have made a late splash in free agency, inking veteran centers Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy to one-year contracts. And while the Preds were desperate for pivots after learning of Mike Fisher’s ruptured Achilles tendon, I’m not sure this was the right path.

Sure, Nashville has long struggled with offense and GM David Poile has now made several moves to address the problem: Along with the new pair of signings, he also brought in Olli Jokinen, James Neal and offense-minded coach Peter Laviolette recently. But with the exception of Laviolette, none of these guys are winners.

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