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
There were plenty of free agent goaltenders on the market this summer, and a number of decent options remain unsigned as the regular season gets underway. Most teams have a clearly-defined No. 1 goalie or are happy to go with a strong tandem at this point, but players disappoint and injuries happen (just ask Nashville and Pekka Rinne).
There are some serviceable veteran goalies waiting for a contract right now, and a few young prospects in the minors who could get a look if a backup gets injured somewhere.
Here are some names you might see back on an NHL ice surface before the end of the season.
In the end, the Ryan Johansen imbroglio ended up rather predictably and much like many of these situations resolve themselves. Each side gives a little and takes a little, with both being able to save face and capable of claiming they made a good deal.
But that middle part, boy, that was a nasty piece of work. The Blue Jackets had the high ground when it came to what they were offering Johansen on a two-year bridge deal, but they certainly did their part to drag this whole process through the mud. The demands Johansen and agent Kurt Overhardt made were pretty outrageous – although Overhardt says they were erroneous – but the fact that this whole thing got as dirty as it did was largely because of the Blue Jackets and their move to personally besmirch the agent. Read more
The next time you’re inclined to think about NHL players as pampered and overpaid millionaires with no sense of gratitude, shift your thoughts to Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins. The only box he checks off in that description is millionaire.
Krug led all rookie defensemen in goals, assists and points last season. No first-year player, forward or defenseman, had more points on the power play than Krug’s 19. He was named to the NHL’s all-rookie team and became just the fifth defenseman in Bruins history to record double digits in goals in his first NHL season. His 14 goals were one more than Bobby Orr had in his rookie season.
For all that, Krug was rewarded with an almost $400,000 pay cut. And in doing so, he provided a fascinating study of leverage when it comes to negotiating contracts. Read more
Take a look at Nashville Predators blueline depth chart. If your eyes bug out of your head, you’re forgiven.
The defense corps’ present and future are blindingly bright. Shea Weber, the game’s most complete player at his position, leads the way, usually paired with rapidly improving, well-rounded Roman Josi. A phenom named Seth Jones joined the fray last year, making the team as a teenager months after Nashville took him fourth overall. Big, steady Swede Mattias Ekholm looks like he’s an NHLer for good after a few years marinating in the American League. And GM David Poile added bruising veteran Anton Volchenkov on a one-year deal this off-season.
Rounding out that top six is the somewhat forgotten man: Ryan Ellis. Amid the headlines in recent years stolen by Ryan Suter’s departure, Weber’s offer sheet and Jones’ arrival, Ellis has faded into the background. Perhaps that’s why, at first glance, a five-year deal paying him $2.5 million annually seems like a lot, more so in term than cap hit. Ellis? Five years? Did he deserve it?