Leafs, Penguins among the NHL’s five most pressure-packed markets in 2014-15

Randy Carlyle (Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

The NHL has always been a pressure-packed league, but from year-to-year, some teams face more pressure than others. Which franchises are going to be dealing with an especially hot seat once the 2014-15 season begins? These five:

5. Washington Capitals. When the Caps missed the playoffs last year and owner Ted Leonsis cleaned house on the management side, some observers expected them to go the same route with their underachieving roster. They did no such thing, and instead doubled down with two high-priced free agent acquisitions (defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen). Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee they’ll even make the playoffs in the mediocre Metropolitan division. And if they fall on their faces again and miss the post-season for the second straight year – the first time that will have happened since 2005-07 – what will ownership’s response be then?

4. San Jose Sharks. Sports has a long tradition of identifying underdogs – i.e., teams not expected to do well because they’re lacking in depth or talent – but the Sharks are now officially overdogs: a team not expected to do well despite having all kinds of depth and talent. San Jose GM Doug Wilson’s criticism of his group of players after last spring’s playoff collapse against the Kings should have everyone walking on eggshells as soon as training camp begins, but any kind of serious stumble during the season could lead to major changes. Read more

Comparing Sidney Crosby with other legends at age 27

Matt Larkin
Sidney Crosby

Happy birthday, Sid the Kid.

Hard to believe Sidney Crosby turned 27 Thursday. It feels like we were just watching him light it up with the Rimouski Oceanic and pop the water bottle behind Jose Theodore as an 18-year-old rookie.

Crosby is now squarely in his prime, probably approaching the latter half of it. He already has a Hall of Fame resume and a safe perch among the most talented to ever play the game. But how does he measure up to the generational talents with whom he’s often compared, the Gretzkys and Lemieuxs of the world? It doesn’t make much sense to weigh them against each other in sheer point production and volume – though Sid is no slouch, with the fourth-best points per game in NHL history – because they belong to different eras. But we can have fun looking at team accomplishments and individual hardware. Here’s a look at what Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin had done at the same point of their careers: the season in which they were 27 for Game 1 in October.

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Rumor Roundup: The Los Angeles Kings’ Justin Williams dilemma

Justin Williams

NBC Sports’ Joe Yerdon speculates the Los Angeles Kings could be in an awkward situation this season with winger Justin Williams, whose clutch play in the 2014 playoffs earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP.

Williams, who turns 33 in October, is entering the final season of his contract at a cap hit of $3.65 million. The Kings have more than $59 million invested in their roster for 2015-16 and have several young players – including promising forwards Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson – due to become restricted free agents.

With the salary cap expected to rise significantly next season, Yerdon doubts the Kings will have difficulty re-signing their free agents, but he feels retaining Williams could stunt the development of one of those young forwards. If the Kings believe it’s time to promote Toffoli, Yerdon says they could either bid Williams farewell or try to find a way to retain the veteran winger while promoting Toffoli. Read more

Music and hockey: an all-star panel, part one

Nathan-MacKinnon-3

As obsessed as I am with hockey, I was once similarly preoccupied with music. I am nowhere near as plugged in as I used to be, but I still love music and since my tastes tend to run on the obscure side, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to talk about my favorite bands within the hockey community. But over the years, I’ve found some kindred spirits in the sport and it’s always fun to talk about bands and artists that we share a mutual love for.

So in the spirit of summer fun, I hit up a few of the people who fall into that category and asked them about the current state of hockey and music. Here’s the panel:

Nathan MacKinnon: Calder Trophy-winning center for the Colorado Avalanche, hip-hop head.

Drew Stafford: Veteran Buffalo Sabres right winger, heavy metal fiend

Boyd Devereaux: Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings. Now retired, his company Waking Sound makes hockey promo videos featuring highlights set to music. He also founded the label Elevation Recordings, which put out psyche/noise/underground artists.

Vinny Karpuszka: Arena DJ for the Pittsburgh Penguins, heavy metal enthusiast

Sunaya Sapurji: Junior hockey writer for Yahoo! Sports and its Buzzing the Net blog

Uffe Bodin: Editor in chief and writer for Hockeysverige.se.

Arun Bali: Guitarist for Saves the Day, die-hard Red Wings fan now living in Nashville

Part two of this conversation will go up tomorrow. Here we go…

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At what point this summer do we change the “U” in UFA to unwanted?

Tampa Bay Lightning v Washington Capitals

For those NHL players who don’t step willingly into retirement, there eventually comes a day when UFA stands for unwanted free agent rather than unrestricted free agent.

As July ends and August begins, we’re now closer to the start of NHL training camps than we are the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For unsigned UFAs, that’s an added layer of anxiety. What if nobody wants me and I’ve played my last NHL game?

Take a browse through capgeek.com and you’ll see half the NHL teams are already at the 23-man NHL roster limit. Another nine teams are at 22 players. And that doesn’t even include the several dozen or so non-roster rookie prospects who will surely make big-league rosters in October.

So not a lot of roster openings remain.

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With no resolution in sight, Canadiens taking arbitration risk with P.K. Subban

Ken Campbell
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Barring a couple of last minute settlements, Rand Simon of Newport Sports and Andre Lepage of the BCF law firm in Montreal will have a very busy couple of days. And they’ll probably get to know each other a lot better.

Simon, a former staffer here at THN and now an indispensible contract resource for Newport Sports, is scheduled to argue the salary arbitration cases for Nick Spaling of the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens Friday. Lepage, whose firm is retained by both the Penguins and Canadiens, will be arguing in front of the arbitrator in favor of the teams involved.

Of the 23 salary arbitration cases that were originally filed, only Spaling and Subban remain unresolved. Twenty came to terms before their hearings and Vladimir Sobotka of the St. Louis Blues, who will play in the Kontinental League next season, was awarded a one-year deal for $2.725 million, which he must honor whenever he returns to the NHL.

The arbitration case involving Subban is certainly the most compelling and prominent of all those that were filed and it’s looking as though the two sides are on a collision course that will see this thing go the distance. The two sides have had a history of having difficulty in contract negotiations and as of Wednesday morning at least, were not even close to consummating a deal that is suitable for both sides.

And there’s no doubt the Canadiens are taking a substantial risk here. In their pre-arbitration filings, the Subban camp is asking for $8.5 million and the Canadiens are requesting an award of $5.25 million. The Canadiens could have elected to take a two-year award, but chose only one. And there are a couple of reasons for that. First, Subban will still be one year away from being an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season and the Canadiens have the option of taking him to arbitration next summer. If Subban doesn’t have a banner season, the Canadiens can come in with an offer of up to a 15 per cent pay cut on whatever Subban is awarded.

Secondly, a two-year award would not allow the Canadiens to even talk to Subban about a contract extension for at least 12 months, whereas a one-year deal will allow them to try to hammer out a deal with Subban starting Jan. 1, 2015.

But the risk for the Canadiens is very real. If Subban has an even better season in 2014-15, he could take the Canadiens to arbitration again next summer and really torch them on a one-year deal. If all that happens and he goes through arbitration again, it’s difficult to fathom Subban wouldn’t simply play out his last season before unrestricted free agency then explore the market. And even though the Canadiens can announce as early as June 15 of next year that they intend to take him to arbitration, any team would be free to submit an offer sheet before July 5. The Canadiens would then either face the prospect of losing Subban for draft picks or be forced to match the offer and not be able to trade him for a year.

Either way, Subban wins here. The Canadiens request of $5.25 million represents a 40 percent raise on the $3.75 million Subban made last season. And that’s the worst-case scenario for him. Best case will be arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier chooses Subban’s number of $8.5 million, but she can also pick a number anywhere between the two. (Spaling filed a salary request of $2.85 million for next season, while the Penguins countered with $1.65 million.)

Subban’s hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday and the decision must come down by Sunday afternoon. The two sides have until the decision to work out a deal on their own, but the reality is that if this one gets to the hearing stage, there almost certainly won’t be a deal.

So the fate of one of the NHL’s best defensemen and one of its most marketable players is very much up in the air. And if it goes to arbitration, Canadiens fans had better get accustomed to uncertainty surrounding Subban, probably for the next two years.

NHL coaching is now about relationships as much as it is Xs-and-Os

Adam Proteau
Evgeni Malkin (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

New Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Johnston traveled to Russia this weekend to talk with star center Evgeni Malkin about the team’s new direction in the wake of sweeping change to management and the playing roster. The trip is a must for Johnston, because, now more than ever before, relationships can mean the difference between coaches winning and losing at hockey’s highest levels.

The days of autocrat bench bosses barking orders at their charges are long-gone. Just ask the short-gone John Tortorella and his former employers in Vancouver who can’t do enough to distance themselves from that awful experiment. The Canucks replaced Tortorella with Willie Desjardins, an affable, considerate man who paid his dues in the hockey world, but who also has a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in social work. Desjardins may not succeed in his new gig, but his well-rounded background will serve as the template for NHL coaches in the years to come.

Seeing the continued evolution of the coaching profession brings to mind something former Leafs executive Dave Poulin told THN a few years back: he believed the label “coach” didn’t accurately describe what the men who served in the role did every day. He thought baseball had it right in calling their coaches “managers”, because so much of the average NHL coach’s job today is about managing: managing on-ice strategic adjustments – in-game and game-to-game – and, more importantly, managing the personalities of players as they attempt to form a cohesive unit. Read more

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews & Mario Lemieux lead list of all-time most uncomfortable NHLer commercials

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Endorsing products has been a part of being a top talent in the NHL for nearly as long as the league has been in existence. Advertisers want the star power of hockey players, even if the low-key personalities of those players don’t make them natural public pitchmen.

Although some players do well in the role, more often than not, NHL players hawking products on TV is an exercise in embarrassment. In reverse order, here are the five most embarrassing TV ads featuring NHLers of the modern era:

5. Adam Oates goes dating for the NHL. When he was a member of the Boston Bruins, Oates inexplicably said yes to this commercial, which paints him as a lovelorn hockey star wearing his equipment in a restaurant, as as lovelorn hockey stars are wont to do. From the unfortunately-phrased “loose rebounds” comment to Oates’ weirdly shame-ridden “It wouldn’t be the first time” answer to getting shot down, this ad doesn’t make you want to buy an NHL ticket. It makes you want to sign him up for eharmony.com.


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