Nashville Predators Tattoos
Nic Weatherspoon, Nashville, Tenn.
Nashville Predators Tattoos
Nic Weatherspoon, Nashville, Tenn.
The Flyers should repeat last season's magic, and could do even better if they keep getting great goaltending and a return to form from Jakub Voracek.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 4th in Metro, wild-card team
Stanley Cup odds: 28-1
Key additions: Dale Weise, LW; Boyd Gordon, C
Key departures: Evgeny Medvedev, D; Ryan White, RW; R.J. Umberger, LW
-How far can Dave Hakstol take this team? The rookie coach gained traction in the second half of the season and brought out the best in players such as Brayden Schenn while also unleashing the mighty power of rookie Shayne Gostisbehere before that. The Flyers gave Washington an uncomfortable amount of pushback in the first round of the playoffs, and you can expect more of the same this time out as the coach becomes more entrenched.
-Jakub Voracek will be better, right? He has to be. Voracek had a rough 2015-16, with his typical season shooting percentage getting carved almost in half (from nine percent to five percent). Voracek’s struggles manifested most obviously on the power play, where he scored just once after tallying 11 times with the man advantage in 2014-15. A second training camp under Hakstol’s watch will help him get back to his usual scoring ways, plus Voracek will get a running start to the season thanks to his spot with the Czechs at the World Cup of Hockey.
-Who is the starting goalie? The Flyers have that problem right now where there are two options in net – Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. Mason has been the starter for the past three seasons, with results that have bounced between OK and pretty good. Neuvirth has never played more than 48 games in an NHL season and that was back in 2010-11. But he scared the daylights out of the Capitals in the playoffs, surrendering just two goals in three games to push the series to six games after the Flyers started off 0-3. For now, we’ve got a platoon. The best man will win.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
This team surprised a lot of people last season with their stunning late season surge into the post-season, and they might do even more damage this season.
A lot of credit should go to GM Ron Hextall who has cleaned up the past regime’s mess admirably and stocked the cupboard with a lot of blue-chip talent. The team has two of the best forwards in the league in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and getting value out of their remaining prime years is essential. Doing so while also building toward the future creates a delicate balance that Hextall has navigated excellently so far.
One of those future building blocks is stud 'D' prospect Ivan Provorov who is definitely talented enough to make this team, but still might not due to the amount of money ahead of him on the depth chart. If he starts the year in the top six instead of Nick Schultz, this team will be better for it. With the emergence of Shayne Gostisbehere last season, and the solid contributions from Radko Gudas, Mark Streit, and Michael Del Zotto, the Flyers actually have a surprisingly solid, albeit average, defense corps.
Up front the team’s top two lines are quite good, especially that top line of Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds. Voracek had a tough year last season, but there’s no doubt that his shooting percentage should bounce back up to his normal rates. He’s too good to be converting on under two percent of his shots on the powerplay, and 5.2 percent in all situations.
While the top six is decent, the bottom six is a big concern, especially the bottom line. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a nice story representing France for Team Europe at the World Cup, but his on-ice results have been abysmal in the NHL. Along with Boyd Gordon, that line will probably be spending a lot of time trying to get out of the defensive zone.
The Flyers’ biggest strength, and the biggest reason they’ve got a high chance of making the playoffs, is in net. When they first traded for Steve Mason that seemed absurd to even consider, but his career has taken a complete 180 and he’s now legitimately one of the league’s top goalies. And if he falters, Michal Neuvirth ain’t bad either.
A lot of people were surprised when this team made the playoffs last season. Don’t be shocked if they repeat the magic this season.
Up next: Tampa Bay Lightning
Previously: Toronto Maple Leafs | Edmonton Oilers | Vancouver Canucks | Columbus Blue Jackets | Calgary Flames | Winnipeg Jets | Arizona Coyotes | Buffalo Sabres | Montreal Canadiens | Colorado Avalanche | New Jersey Devils | Ottawa Senators | Carolina Hurricanes | Boston Bruins | Detroit Red Wings | Nashville Predators
The new KHL expansion team in China appears to still be learning some of hockey's customs.
China is a potentially massive emerging market for hockey. Beijing will host the Winter Olympics in 2022 and even if NHL players aren’t at the 2018 Games, it seems like a no brainer to return for 2022 to try to increase the sport’s popularity there.
The KHL already has a foot in the door in China, thanks to its newest expansion team, Kunlun Red Star, which is based in Beijing. Fans are embracing the game to various degrees, but it seems there are some nuanced hockey customs that haven’t fully caught on yet.
Take this ceremonial puck drop, for instance.
This unintentionally hilarious puck drop was prior to a September 18 game between Kunlan and Tolyatti Lada. The unidentified man in the suit, after getting a puck-dropping lesson, seems content to just throw the puck at the ice like it’s a grenade and get on with his day. No waiting around for both captains, no hand shakes, no photos.
The confused captains are Lada’s Vladimir Malenkikh – who tries in vain to get the man to wait – and Red Star’s Janne Jalasvaara, who is still adjusting his helmet when the puck drops. The two captains exchange a confused look.
Another subtle hilarious moment is Red Star left winger Max Warn, in the top right corner of the video, trying to usher the two men off the ice.
Ten games into their inaugural KHL season, Kunlun is experiencing many ups and downs. They are a somewhat respectable 4-6 on the season, but are struggling at the gate. Reports say there were only 550 spectators for a recent game in Shanghai, where they are playing a handful of games this season.
Hampus Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau
Hampus Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau
The first game of the 2016-17 campaign is less than two weeks away, yet five key RFAs, including the Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau and Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov, remain without contracts.
In less than two weeks’ time, the puck will have dropped on a new season, and there’s a chance that several high profile restricted free agents will begin the season on the sideline due to contract negotiations that have yet to result in a deal that works for both sides.
While Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba has requested a trade and Arizona Coyotes winger Tobias Rieder’s agent said it would be best at this point if his client were shipped elsewhere, other key RFAs are still engaged in negotiations. That doesn’t necessarily mean a contract is imminent, but it does mean progress can be made and at least lends hope that a deal can reached before the seasons starts on Oct. 12.
Here are the five major RFAs still without deals — Trouba and Rieder excluded — and what it could take for their respective club to work out a deal before the start of the new campaign:
Hampus Lindholm, D, Anaheim Ducks
In terms of average ice time, no defenseman was more important to the Anaheim Ducks this past season than Lindholm. The 22-year-old scored 10 goals and 28 points, all the while averaging an even 22 minutes per night, and it’s his offensive production and importance to the Ducks’ blueline that make his deal such a tough one to manage.
Of course, in a perfect world, the Ducks would have been able to hand Lindholm the contract he’s after and call it a day. However, in the salary cap world, that’s not the case. The Ducks have little more than $7.5 million in cap space and have a significant amount of money tied up in their bottom-three blueliners, including two years remaining on an unfortunate four-year, $13-million deal with Clayton Stoner.
The Orange County Register’s Eric Stephens reported that Lindholm could be looking for aem eight-year, $48-million deal that carries an average salary of $6 million. That’s not easy for the Ducks to do given their cap situation, and it’s no wonder they’ve yet to come to terms with Lindholm.
A deal compared to that of Torey Krug, Seth Jones or Morgan Rielly, all defenders under 25 and carrying cap hits between $5-5.4 million, would be easier for the Ducks to manage, but it would require Lindholm to show some give on his asking price.
Rickard Rakell, C, Anaheim Ducks
Rakell’s off-season has been up-and-down, what with his selection to the World Cup team and subsequent injury that cost him his spot, but the one constant has been that he still needs a deal if he’s going to suit up for the Ducks this coming campaign. Like Lindholm, though, the Ducks’ cap space has become somewhat of an issue.
Cap space, however, is less of an issue when it comes to Rakell’s deal and more problematic when considering that both Rakell and Lindholm need to be signed. Again, if it was only one or the other, this is probably a non-issue and contracts are likely done by now, but things are more complicated because Anaheim has roughly than $7.5 million to work with under the cap.
The structure for Rakell’s deal has long been speculated and Victor Rask’s six-year, $24-million deal with the Carolina Hurricanes as the most commonly used comparable. However, the Ducks might be more comfortable if Rakell took a deal that carries a cap hit more similar to that of Jakob Silfverberg. In August 2015, Anaheim inked Silfverberg to a four-year, $15-million deal carrying a cap hit of $3.75 million.
Rakell’s negotiations have been some of the most positive of the outstanding RFAs, though, and his agent, Peter Wallen, told Stephens in July that he believed the two sides would, “find common ground for a solid agreement as I feel both parties seem to want that to happen very much.”
Rasmus Ristolainen, D, Buffalo Sabres
Rakell might be having solid negotiations, but no one is making it more clear he wants to be with his current team than Ristolainen. Despite the fact he’s without a deal for the upcoming season, the towering blueliner took the ice with his Sabres teammates for a practice Thursday, receiving permission from the club to participate even though he’s still unsigned.
Ristolainen’s agent, Mike Liut, told The Buffalo News’ John Vogl that contract talks between the two sides aren’t close, but that Ristolainen wanted to “continue to build on the gains he made this summer” and join the team ahead of the season. As for the contract, though, it might take the Sabres giving Ristolainen a massive raise in order for it to get done.
This past season, Ristolainen appeared in all 82 games for the Sabres and averaged a whopping 25-plus minutes per game. Among the other defensemen who averaged ice time that high are Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban, Duncan Keith, Roman Josi and Shea Weber. That gives an idea of the kind of players Ristolainen is probably hoping to be paid like, though that’s a hard bargain to drive without the results to back it up.
The Sabres struggled last season, and though that’s not on Ristolainen, he still has a ton of room to grow before he turns his big minutes into big impact. He’s not in the conversation for the Norris Trophy, and his deal should likely fall somewhere in the same range as Lindholm’s. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, it could take an average salary of $6 million-plus to get Ristolainen to sign a new deal.
Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Chief among the reasons why Gaudreau has yet to sign a new deal in Calgary appears to be the team’s unwillingness to pay the dynamic playmaker much more than other players on the roster.
Before Sean Monahan signed a seven-year deal that carries a $6.375-million cap hit, the belief was that he and Gaudreau could receive matching deals. For the Flames, that could still be the hope, but Gaudreau is worth much more than that and he has proven it with his play over the past two seasons.
There are only 11 players who have put up more points than Gaudreau’s 142 over the past two seasons, and the 23-year-old is the life blood of the Flames’ offense. He was an immediate impact player, is already a 30-goal scorer two years into his career and finished sixth in the league in scoring even while suiting up for a bad Flames team this past season. The hardest part about this situation for Gaudreau, though, is that he has absolutely no bargaining power regardless of his production.
While he falls into the RFA category, Gaudreau entered the off-season without arbitration rights, wasn’t eligible to receive or sign an offer sheet and has his rights pretty much owned by the Flames. He has said, time and again, that he wants to stay in Calgary, so that’s not an issue, but that Gaudreau’s new contract could — and probably should — be worth upwards of $7.5 million per season seems to be.
Signing a deal worth more than $6.75 million per season would make Gaudreau Calgary’s highest-paid player, and when the dust settles, it’ll probably take exactly that to get the young star locked up long-term.
Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith reported Thursday that Kucherov’s agent Scott Greenspun has told Steve Yzerman the Russian winger won’t be coming to training camp without a contract, so that means Yzerman and Co. need to find a solution or risk starting the season without the services of the 23-year-old sniper.
It seemed like a clear outline for Kucherov’s deal was there when the Nashville Predators inked RFA Filip Forsberg to a six-year, $36-million contract, but the issue with the Forsberg comparison is production in the post-season. While the two players, both wingers, have scored 59 goals a piece over the past two seasons, Kucherov has added 21 playoff goals in 43 games.
Yzerman has remained confident that he can get Kucherov under contract and has never been anything less than optimistic about the situation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a deal is close. The biggest stumbling block is the Lightning’s cap situation. Signing Kucherov would almost assuredly mean Tampa Bay is over the cap to start the season. The only way to avoid that, really, is by either trading someone to make cap space for Kucherov’s new contract or somehow managing to persuade Kucherov into taking a $5.5-million deal.
As has been mentioned on a number of occasions, though, the Lightning have to be careful not just of this season, but of the situation that awaits them next off-season. Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin, Andrej Suster, Nikita Nesterov and Slater Koekkoek will all see their deals expire after 2016-17, and signing six RFAs is going to be costly and require some tough choices. As it stands, the Bolts will have slightly less than $18 million to operate if the salary cap remains flat. That’s not going to be enough money to keep everyone, even if Kucherov takes a sizeable discount.
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Sidney Crosby and winning in a Canadian uniform go together like macaroni and cheese. And as good as mac and cheese is, Crosby is better.
“Who owns this game?” It started out as a (terrible) marketing pitch for the World Cash Grab of Hockey™. But after the final of the World Cup of Hockey, that question has been answered emphatically. And with an exclamation point.
Sidney Crosby. Sidney Crosby owns hockey. The most valuable player of the 2016 playoffs and the most valuable player of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, the best player on the planet today, owns hockey. It’s all his and it sure looks as though nobody is going to take it away from him anytime soon. Sidney Crosby also owns two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, one World Championship, two NHL scoring championships, two NHL MVP awards and a Rocket Richard Trophy. Hell, let’s even throw in the Mark Messier Leadership Award. And the way he played in the playoffs last spring, don’t dismiss the possibility he might even win a Selke Trophy one day.
Lady Byng? All right, that’s a stretch. A big one.
Canada, by virtue of its nail-biting 2-1 win over Team Europe in Game 2 of the tournament final, does have some minority ownership here. After all, the players with the maple leaf on their chests have won five of the past six best-on-best tournaments and are the reigning World Champion. But Crosby now has a mind-boggling 25-game winning streak in a Canadian uniform – including 16-0-0 in best-on-best competition, a golden goal in 2010, an insurance goal in the gold medal game in 2014 and, now, the scoring title and MVP award at the World Cup.
Captain Canada indeed. There are only three players in the history of the game who have been named most valuable player in at least one NHL season, one Stanley Cup playoff tournament and a World/Canada Cup. One is Wayne Gretzky. Another is Bobby Orr. And the third is Sidney Crosby, a player who will be joining the previous two in the Hockey Hall of Fame someday. That’s because not only is Crosby the best player in the world, he’s the best player in the world at the most crucial times.
“I just think about serial winners and that’s what he is,” Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said of Crosby. “When you look at guys like him and (Patrice Bergeron) and obviously (Jonathan Toews) and guys like that, in the biggest moments they’re better. They can’t help themselves. They’re addicted to winning and they just make it happen.”
That has certainly been the case for Crosby in Canadian togs. The World Cup marked the eighth time in Crosby’s career that he has played for Canada. In those events, he now has five gold medals and a silver and has 32 goals and 67 points in 54 games. Of the 51 players who have averaged better than a point-per-game in their careers, Crosby is on a list of only 10 other players who have better than a point-per-game regular season, in the NHL playoffs and in international competition – Gretzky, Orr, Mario Lemieux, Peter Forsberg, Mike Bossy, Eric Lindros, Gilbert Perreault, Pavel Bure, Bobby Hull and Evgeni Malkin are the only others in that group. And, not surprisingly, they either all do or will in the future have plaques in the Hall of Fame.
“It’s special,” Crosby acknowledged after the game. “I think I don’t have to look too far to think about how tough it was a year ago starting the season. I think I appreciate this a lot. It’s not easy. To be a hockey player playing for Team Canada and be with this group of guys has been a lot of fun. To be able to win it is special for a lot of reasons, but yeah, it’s been a great month.”
There are some wonderfully talented players in the NHL right now. Patrick Kane is the league’s reigning MVP and Connor McDavid, entering just his second year in the league, is right on everyone’s heels. It would not be a stretch to think he might even win it this season, depending upon whether or not he can get the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs. But right here, right now, at this moment in time, there is no one better than Sidney Crosby.
“Sid is unbelievable,” Babcock gushed. “He’s great to be around. I’ve been real lucky I’ve been three times and we win every time. He does it right. He works hard. He doesn’t complain. If he gets 15 minutes, he doesn’t say a word. If he gets 20 minutes, doesn’t say a word. If he misses three shifts in a row, he doesn’t say a word.”
Actually, when it comes to speaking of himself, Crosby doesn’t say a whole lot of anything. His play, though, has spoken volumes. In a tournament where there was too little intrigue, save the play of Team North America and the final three minutes of Game 2 of the final, Crosby went to the top of a mountain and screamed at the top of his lungs.
“I own this game!” he said with his play. Again.