Vincent Lecavalier’s washout in Philly should (but won’t) make NHL teams wary of lengthy contracts for thirtysomethings

Adam Proteau
Vincent Lecavalier (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Just two years into a five-year, $22.5-million contract, Vincent Lecavalier’s days with the Flyers appear to be numbered. There may be a chance he’ll stick around if Craig Berube – Philly’s head coach, with whom Lecavalier is at loggerheads with over his role – is shown the door in the off-season, but there’s also a chance both could be gone by the time training camp arrives.

With the 34-year-old Lecavalier struggling to put up points – his offensive production of eight goals and 20 points is down nearly 50 percent from 2013-14, when he posted 20 goals and 37 points – the Flyers will almost certainly find it difficult to trade him this summer and may have no choice but to buy him out of the final three years of the deal. That will leave Philadelphia with a salary cap hit of be $2.889 million in 2015-16 and 2016-17, $2.389 million in 2017-18 and $889,000 each season beginning in the fall of 2018 and running until the summer of 2021. That’s a at least a decent roster player (if not two) every season the franchise will have to do without, because management decided to use a good deal of their cap space on a big name strictly because he was a big name. For a fleeting moment, it boosted the Flyers’ pride to say they outbid everyone else for Lecavalier, but it didn’t take long at all for reality to intrude on them and paint a more stark picture of what they could expect for him.

Lecavalier’s saga in Orange & Black should give all teams pause to think twice about signing veteran NHL stars in their thirties to long-term pacts, but experience tells us it won’t. Read more

New Leafs coach must be hired based on on-ice philosophy, not NHL resume or familiarity factor

Claude Julien (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

With interim coach Peter Horachek included in team president Brendan Shanahan’s housecleaning Sunday, the Maple Leafs are going to have their fourth bench boss in three years by the time the 2015-16 season begins. And although it’s tempting for Leafs fans to speculate on and salivate over some of the names expected to be available, Toronto’s next hire doesn’t have to have a familiarity factor with fans in order for it to be right. The next head coach of the Leafs just has to have the right on-ice philosophy – one based on teaching and patience – to put the franchise back on track.

It will be tempting for Shanahan and whomever he hires as GM (if he doesn’t take that role himself) to be dazzled by the slew of accomplished coaches who’ll apply for the position, but the problem with those types of coaches can be they’re far more interested in winning now than they are in developing the young talent Toronto will placing its organizational bets on in the years to come. Read more

NHL’s SnapChamp Era begins: Flames, Jets make playoffs; defending-champ Kings – & maybe, Bruins or Pens – are out

Flames players celebrate a 3-1 home win over L.A. – and making the playoffs this year – in front of a raucous home crowd in Calgary. (Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Watching the NHL’s action play out Thursday night was kind of like covering a political election and seeing the polls come in and herald a new leader for a new era. In one polling station, you had the Boston Bruins – the league’s top regular-season team last year – falling to the Florida Panthers and putting their playoff fate in the hands of the surging Ottawa Senators and wobbly Pittsburgh Penguins (who, like the Bruins, won a Stanley Cup not too long ago); In another station, you saw the Calgary Flames hold off the desperate Los Angeles Kings and register a 3-1 win, eliminating the defending Cup champions from the post-season and securing a playoff berth for the Winnipeg Jets.

Change was everywhere, and more change could be coming. Depending on what happens Friday and Saturday, the Eastern Conference playoff picture could have three teams (the Sens, Capitals and Islanders) who weren’t in the 2014 post-season, and the Western Conference will have four teams (Vancouver, Nashville, Calgary and Winnipeg) in this year’s playoffs who weren’t there last year. A 43.75 percent playoff turnover rate is one thing, but it’s not just the fact there are potentially seven new post-season teams this year that’s so intriguing; it’s the great distance teams are falling that has NHL executives clenching their teeth and always worrying about what’s ahead. Read more

Dear Hockey Gods: please give us an all-Canadian team Stanley Cup Final this year

Calgary Flames fans. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Before I say what I’m about to say, let me be clear: I’m not, in any way shape or form, a jingoistic Canadian hockey fan who thinks it’s a tragedy when one of my country’s teams fails to win at the elite international level, or who believes the number of Canadians on any NHL roster is an accurate metric for their capability to win. Good hockey is good hockey, and hockey fans ought to be happy with any display of the sport that is highly-skilled and passionately-contested.

With that out of the way, this is a plea to the Hockey Gods: it’s been 26 years since the last Cup Final between two Canadian teams. We’re long past due for another. And this year would be as great a year as any for it to come to pass. Read more

Leafs/Sens, Flyers/Pens & Blues/Hawks prove divisional/regional rivalries are NHL’s bread-and-butter

Flyers forward Jakub Voracek yells at the Penguins bench while being restrained by Evegni Malkin. (Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Sunday’s NHL action featured five games, all of which had implications on the playoff race. But of those five, three had a little extra depth to them. The Blackhawks/Blues, Senators/Leafs and Flyers/Penguins games weren’t necessarily more exciting than the Capitals’ win over Detroit or Montreal’s 4-1 victory against Florida, but the regional rivalries always have a discernible zest to them that sets them apart – and that comprises the financial backbone of the league’s most profitable teams.

The Leafs’ season has been abysmal and both their players and fans have looked like they’d checked out of things weeks ago, but Toronto’s players and fans got an emotional jolt in a 2-1 shootout win that dealt Ottawa’s playoff hopes a serious blow. The Flyers did more or less the same thing to the Penguins, only Philadelphia needed just three periods to squash the Pens 4-1 and jeopardize Pittsburgh’s post-season hopes. And the Blues and Hawks have the best kind of rivalry – one in which both teams are headed to the playoffs this year and are jousting for top spot in their division.

Sorry, Detroit vs. Washington and Montreal vs. Florida, but you’re going to have an uphill battle trying to replicate the emotion seen in those type of games. Read more

How suspensions happen: THN goes inside the NHL player safety war room

Matt Larkin
Department of player safety czar Stephane Quintal, front, oversees a night of games with a team including Patrick Burke, second from bottom. and Damian Echevarrieta, top right. (Photo by Matt Larkin)

It’s February 18, 2015. Montreal Canadiens center Lars Eller finds himself in a frighteningly familiar predicament. He speeds into Ottawa’s neutral zone, stretching out to receive a pass…and spots his old buddy, Senators D-man Eric Gryba, bearing down on him, forearms at chin height. Violent impact. And then–

Timeout.

Eller and Gryba freeze as their torsos separate. Remember what Zack Morris used to do on Saved by the Bell, locking everyone around him in tableau when he had a predicament to solve? That’s what’s happened here, but swap Bayside High for the NHL Department of Player Safety’s war room. Eller and Gryba stretch across four television screens, paused mid-game so the league’s experts can debate the collision’s legality.

Every set of eyes and ears perks up in the room, because everyone present knows the context. Gryba KO’d Eller with an illegal headshot in the 2013 playoffs, ending Eller’s season and earning Gryba a two-game suspension. Another run-in between the two lights up four criteria on the NHL’s no-no board: emotional narrative, potential for repeat offense, potential for injury and a potentially illegal hit. If Gryba has indeed caught Eller in the head again, Gryba has every strike against him and can hang up his skates for a while. Alas, a room-wide review reveals he hit Eller clean in the chest this time. Crisis averted. Game unpaused.

That moment encapsulates the busy life inside the war room, which screens every second of every game all season. The department, led by senior vice-president Stephane Quintal, vice-president Damian Echevarrieta and director Patrick Burke, has invited THN to the New York office for a full night’s slate of games. The mutual goal: improving the media’s understanding of exactly how the league doles out supplemental discipline. What is the chain of command? How does the league weigh prior history and injuries? And, most importantly, are its decisions as “inconsistent” as the keyboard warriors claim?

Read more

Argue with NHL player safety suspensions if you want, but blame team owners & players for soft punishments

Dustin Byfuglien (Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

The instant Dustin Byfuglien’s four-game suspension for a vicious cross-check on Rangers center J.T. Miller was announced late Thursday afternoon, hockey fans and some media types took to social media to vent anger and frustration over the brevity of it. And it wasn’t just Blueshirts supporters; in this era of heightened awareness of head injuries and their long-term effects on players’ post-career quality of life, an ever-increasing number of people agree that actions like Byfuglien’s are absolutely unacceptable and warrant a severe punishment that causes NHLers to think twice before doing something so reckless. They didn’t get that with a four-game ban.

Believe me, nobody agrees with those folks more than I do. However, there’s a group of fans out there who direct their wrath over the league’s consistently underwhelming suspensions at the NHL Department of Player Safety. Those people were out in full force in the wake of the Byfuglien verdict. And those people are wrong. You can disagree with the choices of chief disciplinarian Stephane Quintal or anyone in Player Safety, but attaching primary blame to him or his department is like faulting police for laws they enforce; if you want to effect change and put pressure on the appropriate parties for the long-established leniency of the league, you should look at the two groups chiefly responsible for soft punishments: the first is NHL team owners, and the second is the NHL Players’ Association. Read more