Everything about the Dallas Stars’ season was a head scratcher leading up to Friday, so the announcement of Jason Spezza’s four-year, $30-million contract extension is fitting.
Jason Spezza was a good get for the Dallas Stars in a summer trade with Ottawa that didn’t cost GM Jim Nill an arm and a leg. Spezza, 31, still had plenty left in the tank. He remained a point-per-game player, give or take, he was excited to play in a less hockey-mad market and there was a solid chance he would flourish as Dallas’ No. 2 center behind Tyler Seguin.
Spezza’s short stay as a Dallas Star has delivered on expectations. He’s tallied 18 points in 20 games, racking up assists on the power play. He hasn’t been a world beater in his own zone, but Spezza was never mistaken for Patrice Bergeron to begin with.
Note the term “short stay,” however. The man is 20 games into his Dallas Stars career. Why on Earth would this team sign him to a four-year extension now? The reasons not to stick out like a mason jar full of sore thumbs.
Shortly after earning the second assist on the Boston Bruins first goal of the evening Saturday night, Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton was referred to as ‘Doogie’ Hamilton by Air Canada Centre public address announcer Andy Frost.
A little bit like Doogie Howser, Doogie Hamilton is something of a child prodigy. All right, that might be a stretch for a 21-year-old kid, but considering he’s already in his third year in the league and due for a big payday next season, we’re prepared to declare him on the fast track. (It also gives us an excuse to run this video.)
The Minnesota Wild locked up another young talent Wednesday, signing right winger Charlie Coyle to a five-year, $16-million contract extension with an average annual value of $3.2 million. The deal is the second major extension handed out this month by GM Chuck Fletcher to a pending restricted free agent: on Oct. 12, he signed defenseman Jonas Brodin to a six-year, $25-million deal – and that leaves 22-year-old center Mikael Granlund as the organization’s biggest RFA concern this season.
As is the case with Brodin, Fletcher’s investment in the 22-year-old Coyle, who in his first full NHL season posted 12 goals and 30 points in 70 games, is not outrageous. He has slowly and steadily grown his game, and his 6-foot-3 size, skill and resolve – remember, this is someone who played with two separated shoulders in last year’s post-season – bode well for his employer’s future. A less than maximum-term-length contract also encourages Coyle to be motivated to cash in on another big-bucks pact in his prime. Fletcher has limited his risk with the new deal and put the team in a good position to reap a lot of value out of Coyle if he continues to improve.
Now comes the biggest challenge of all: signing Granlund, Minnesota’s long-touted Finnish sensation who scored eight goals and 41 points in his sophomore NHL campaign. Read more
In somewhat of a surprising move, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com Tuesday that Marc-Andre Fleury’s future as goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins is secure:
“As long as I’m GM here, he’s my goalie,” Rutherford said. “My plan is to re-sign him when the time is right. When that is, I don’t know, if it’s during the year or after the year, but I do want to re-sign him. I believe in him.”
It’s tempting to file this under the “What Do You Expect Him To Say?” category, but let’s assume Rutherford isn’t just making this bold statement as a confidence-booster for Fleury as he enters this especially pressure-packed year and may actually re-sign the 29-year-old before his contract expires. Then let’s ask the question that would be begged by such a move:
Why? Why would you recommit to a goaltender who, since he won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2009, had four straight seasons of sub-.900 save percentages in the playoffs? Last year, Fleury’s SP improved to .915, but even then, that number is deceiving: a pair of shutouts against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinal inflated his SP, but out of 13 games he played for the Pens in two rounds, Fleury posted a SP at or below the modest .900 level seven times.
And you’re telling me this is the kind of asset who deserves a vote of approval in the form of a contract extension before the playoffs even roll around? Sorry, but I don’t get it. Read more
If Gustav Nyquist hadn’t known that he arrived as an NHLer last year, he certainly does now. After all, it takes Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and awful lot to admit he screwed up and Nyquist made him do that.
Babcock has been giving himself a public flogging since Wednesday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins. The Red Wings got a 4-on-3 power play with 41 seconds remaining in overtime and Babcock went with Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Riley Sheahan up front and Nicklas Kronwall on defense. In doing so, he left Nyquist on the bench cooling his heels, despite the fact he tied the game with a power-play goal in the third period.
“I don’t need good analytics to know that Nyquist has three goals,” Babcock said. “We had a 4-on-3 power play at the end of the game and I didn’t have him on the ice. This is my own analytics. After the game, we went through it and we went with the 4-on-3 we always have, but the hottest guy was sitting on the bench. You don’t need analytics to figure out that wasn’t very smart.”
For the most part, though, Nyquist has made the Red Wings look like geniuses. Brought through the organization in typically methodical fashion after being taken in the fourth round, Nyquist didn’t play an NHL game until more than three years after he was drafted in 2008 and didn’t become an NHL regular until five years later. In between were productive careers with the University of Maine and the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American League, where he won a Calder Cup championship two seasons ago.
So by the time the Red Wings turned to Nyquist and a host of other minor leaguers to save their season, he was ready to face the challenge. He was, without a doubt, the most valuable player the Red Wings had last season, scoring 23 of his 28 goals last season in a 28-game stretch from mid-January to early April. This season, he’s picked up where he left off, with three goals in the Red Wings first three games.
So is Nyquist a better NHL player because he was brought along so slowly? Read more
Well played, Mr. Babcock. Well played.
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, the undisputed prize catch among potential unrestricted free agents after this season, came into the Center of the Hockey Universe™ and managed to get out of the morning skate without addressing his future. That he did so in a hockey market that many speculate would be a prime destination for him if he decides to leave the Wings made it all that more impressive.
Babcock and the Red Wings have vowed to not make his contract situation a distraction and he did a good job of it, helped along by a broadcast media scrum that, for reasons only known to them, did not even broach the subject. Babcock only spoke of his personal situation when pulled aside after the cameras were turned off.
“My situation is great,” Babcock said. “I’m in love with my wife and I have three great kids at home and I coach the Red Wings. I’m from Saskatoon and I love my life. See you guys.”
With that he departed down the hallway to the Red Wings bus, but as long as he remains unsigned, the question will continue to be asked. It would be absurd to suggest there have not been talks between the team and Babcock about a new deal. After all, he and Red Wings GM Ken Holland speak every day. (On a related note, Holland and new Toronto Maple Leafs president and former Red Wing Brendan Shanahan spent much of the Red Wings morning skate chatting in the stands of the Air Canada Centre.)
If you like what you’ve seen from the Los Angeles Kings, get ready for a lot more of the same. For a long, long time. That’s because their core players keep coming up and GM keeps knocking them down, and all of them on long-term, cap-friendly deals.
The Kings, in fact, are building themselves some kind of empire. And as anyone knows, all empires need foot soldiers, which is why Lombardi was eager to get defenseman Jake Muzzin’s name on a five-year contract extension worth $20 million. It’s a great contract for the Kings – who get a No. 3-4 defenseman for an average of $4 million – and further proof that the Kings are now a desired destination for players who are willing to take far less money in exchange for the chance to have a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup every year. If you take into account the fact that Muzzin’s cap hit for this season is just $1 million, the Kings have him for the next six seasons for $21 million, an average of $3.5 million.
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ Ryan Johansen starts this season with a new contract and a new challenge: he’ll have to hit the ground running and justify his three-year, $12-million contract without the benefit of a full training camp.
Johansen used what leverage he had as a restricted free agent to battle the CBJs for more money, but he had to compromise if he was going to get back on the ice. He may have missed training camp, but now that he’s signed, Johansen will have to get up to speed quickly and prove he’s worth every dollar he asked for in negotiations.
RFAs like Johansen haven’t had a lot of negotiating power under the last two collective bargaining agreements. Their greatest leverage is their value to their team, and as we saw with Johansen, that leverage only goes so far. Read more