Joey Burke, Staten Island, N.Y.
Joey Burke, Staten Island, N.Y.
David Perron (57) and Blues teammates
Though a recent report sounds dubious, there is no mistaking that the Missouri city can host a team. But a lot of hurdles and work stand in the way
It has been bandied about as an NHL destination before, but Kansas City is in the rumor bin right now because of the second-best league on the planet, the AHL. The initial clamor came from NHL.com's Lou Korac, who heard from a source that Lamar Hunt Jr. planned on bringing a St. Louis Blues AHL affiliate to the Sprint Center, a state-of-the-art facility in Kansas City that has not housed a major sports franchise since it was built in 2007.
The story has already been shot down by some of the folks involved, but what pricked my ears up was the claim that a USHL team would also be part of the package. This struck me as odd because the junior circuit and the AHL play identical schedules, with the vast majority of games on weekends. How could one building host both teams, without extensive schedule-juggling? And would a city with no teams all of a sudden embrace two at the same time?
From what I'm hearing, Kansas City is indeed a great spot for a USHL franchise, because it fits the circuit's geographic footprint and is a good-sized market to capture. But an appropriate building needs to be sorted out and frankly, the Sprint Center is probably too big. Plus, the USHL is a conservative outfit that doesn't want to rush into a market before all due diligence is finished. And there has never been any talk of a USHL and AHL team coming in together.
That backs up what local reporters learned when they talked to the ECHL's Missouri Mavericks, who play in nearby Independence and are also owned by Hunt (who is best known as the owner of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs). It makes sense for the Blues to want their AHL affiliate in-state – not that their current farm team, the Chicago Wolves, are that far away – but it seems like all speculation is premature.
It will be interesting to see how the minor league world is shaken up with Vegas joining the NHL next season, but I can't see Kansas City hosting an AHL squad and a USHL franchise at the same time, especially in the same rink.
Kansas City, of course, had NHL hockey briefly in the 1970s with the Scouts, who then became the Colorado Rockies and then the New Jersey Devils.
A salary cap league means getting bang for your buck is imperative, and these five players have been the best low-risk, high-reward pick ups of the off-season through the campaign’s first two months.
Sam Gagner has embodied the very definition of a low-risk, potentially high-reward off-season signing.
Having come off the worst year of his career, Gagner was looking for the opportunity to prove he still had something left in the tank. At 26, Gagner had just finished one of the most disappointing seasons he’s had to battle through. He managed just eight goals and 16 points with the Flyers, had been sent down to the minors during the campaign and the one time Edmonton Oilers first-liner had turned into a seldom-used bottom-six utility player in Philadelphia.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were the team who finally stepped up and inked Gagner, signing him to a one-year, $650,000 deal. It was a cheap signing and one that had little chance of blowing up in Columbus’ face. If it backfired, the Blue Jackets could simply shuffle Gagner to the minors and forget the whole thing.
The good thing is that the Gagner signing has been far from a disaster. Through 20 games, Gagner has eight goals and 13 points, he’s providing a bottom-six offensive punch and he’s been a good hand on the power play. And with a cap hit that’s not breaking the bank on a team that’s right up against the upper limit, that’s a useful kind of player to have.
Gagner doesn’t top the list of the most cost-effective off-season signings, though. Here are the five unrestricted free agents who have provided the most offense on a budget:
(Note: The players listed below have to have at least 10 points. Additionally, all players have to be in new locales. Matt Cullen, for instance, re-signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins and has 10 points in 23 games at a $1-million salary. You won’t find him, or any other re-signees, on this list. All cap figures via CapFriendly.)
5. Michael Grabner, New York Rangers — Cost per point: $103,125
The only player who’s really tipping the scales in terms of annual salary on this list is Grabner, but he’s making his $1.65-million cap hit seem like a song for the Blueshirts. They just hope he can keep it up.
The 29-year-old has had a hot start and an unexpected hat trick is to thank for his big numbers. He opened the season with two goals in three games, went quiet for five games and then put up three on the Lightning on Oct. 30. He’s actually stayed pretty consistent since then, but he’s currently riding a five-game pointless drought.
His 12 goals are already the most he’s scored since 2013-14, and with 16 points, he’s only 11 shy of posting his best season in the past five seasons.
4. Radim Vrbata, Arizona Coyotes — Cost per point: $66,667
As far as cost per point goes, this is about as technical a case as it gets. As of right now, Vrbata’s cost the Coyotes next to nothing, but in the (albeit unlikely) scenario he doesn’t register another point in his next nine games, his cost per point is going to jump by 50 percent.
Vrbata signed a one-year, $1-million deal in Arizona, but it’s bonus-laden. He gets an additional $500,000 after 30 games, another $500,000 if he hits either the 20-goal or 40-point plateau and there’s an additional $1.25-million tied to playoff bonuses, though it seems rather unlikely he’ll be hitting many, or any, of those.
There’s something about Vrbata and the Coyotes, though. It’s uncanny. He’s always played his best hockey in Arizona, and his eight goals and 15 points in 21 games have him on pace to more than double his output from 2015-16.
3. Rene Bourque, Colorado Avalanche — Cost per point: $65,000
No one will forget where they were during the great Rene Bourque sweepstakes of 2016. The hockey world waited anxiously to learn where the 34-year-old would sign, in hopes that he could bring a boost and Stanley Cup dreams to…Who are we kidding? No one would have predicted this.
On a roster with players such as Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and intriguing rookie Mikko Rantanen, it’s Bourque, with eight tallies in 19 games, who leads the Avalanche in goals. That’s already good for the second-best goal scoring season he’s had since 2011-12.
His signing in Colorado was seen as the Avalanche taking a flyer on a veteran who could potentially have some scoring punch in him, with hopes he could recapture the three-straight 20-goal years from his days as a Calgary Flame. The one-year, $650,000 deal is looking pretty good so far with Bourque third on the team with 10 points.
2. Sam Gagner, Columbus Blue Jackets — Cost per point: $50,000
Gagner’s season is one to watch for reasons beyond the fact that he’s coming off of a terrible year, because not only has he found his game again in Columbus, he’s done so at a rate that could potentially make this the best campaign of his career.
The best season of Gagner’s career remains his rookie year, when he potted 13 goals and 49 points in 2007-08. That was good enough to earn him a handful of votes and finish seventh in Calder Trophy voting. His next best year was his lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, as he scored 14 goals and 38 points in 48 games, good for .79 points per game.
Gagner isn’t in line to bust that points per game pace, but he is staring at potential career highs in goals and points. Right now, he’s on pace to crack the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career and his 52-point clip would signal the highest scoring season of his 10-year career.
1. Jonathan Marchessault, Florida Panthers — Cost per point: $41,667
If you saw this coming, you’re either a liar or a witch.
Over a span of just 23 games, Marchessault is one point shy of doubling his career point total in roughly half the games. He has already scored more goals this season than he did in 45 outings with the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2015-16 campaign. Marchessault has been nothing short of outstanding in Florida, and the signing is proving to be a fantastic one by the Panthers.
There’s certainly some reasons for the uptick in scoring, such as injuries allowing him to play more than 18 minutes a night and skate on a line with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr, but credit where credit is due. Marchessault has been consistent and he’s been effective.
The only thing about this deal that bites is that Marchessault inked a two-year, $1.5-million deal. That means Florida doesn’t have to be in any hurry to re-sign him if he continues to have a big year, and the 25-year-old might have to prove himself again next year in order to get a payday.
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Rumors of the Flames looking to trade defenseman Dougie Hamilton for some scoring help just won't go away.
Nearly two months into the NHL season, Calgary Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton is now a hot topic of trade speculation among the hockey punditry.
Hamilton, 23, got off to a slow start with the Flames this season. The puck-moving blueliner went pointless during a 10-game stretch from Oct. 30 to Nov. 18, and netted only six points in his first 19 games.
The Hamilton rumors initially surfaced in late October, when TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported of talk he could be available. LeBrun said one team made inquiries but didn't get far.
As Hamilton and the Flames struggled through November, the trade chatter only grew. On Nov. 12, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos expressed doubt that the Flames were shopping the rearguard, but claimed the Arizona Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins were “kicking tires.” Two days later, Kypreos' colleague Elliotte Friedman said he'd heard Hamilton's name come up in trade discussions back in June.
Hamilton subsequently told the Calgary's Sun's Wes Gilbertson he'd heard the trade rumors but wasn't paying attention to them. He insisted he was happy playing in Calgary and wanted to help the Flames improve.
Entering Wednesday's match-up with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Flames have posted a 5-3-1 record in their last nine games. With 22 points, they're only three behind Los Angeles for a wild-card berth. Hamilton's production also improved, with six points in as many games. However, the trade talk persists.
But Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke is not happy about those trade talks.
During an appearance on Leafs Lunch Wednesday Burke shot down the rumors, lashed out at the team that leaked the idea, and made it clear the Flames intend to keep Hamilton.
“We expended a tremendous amount of assets to get this player. We’re really happy with him. He’s a quality guy. ... He’s a right shot. He skates like a deer. He’s a good hockey player. Yeah, let’s move him. Let’s get rid of him. It’s not hard to get guys like that."
USA Today's Kevin Allen last week made the case for the New York Rangers to pursue Hamilton. He believes the youngster can fill the Blueshirts need for a mobile defender with a right-handed shot.
On Monday, NHL analyst Bob McKenzie was asked by Toronto's TSN 1050 if the Toronto Maple Leafs could be interested in Hamilton. McKenzie speculates they probably are, though he doesn't know if Hamilton's available. He said the Flames are “definitely listening” on Hamilton, but that doesn't mean they intend to trade him.
McKenzie subsequently noted recent speculation linking the Maple Leafs to Hamilton, reporting no substantive talks between the two clubs. Some observers believe the Leafs should offer up promising winger William Nylander for Hamilton, but McKenzie claims they're not keen to do that. If the Leafs decide at some point to shop a winger for a defenseman, he believes James van Riemsdyk could be the likely trade candidate.
With scoring star Johnny Gaudreau sidelined indefinitely by finger surgery, the Flames are mired in the league's bottom third in goals-for per game (2.20). Even when Gaudreau returns later this season, the Flames could probably use more scoring punch.
Hamilton is the perfect trade chip to add another scoring forward. He's big (6-foot-6, 210 pounds), moves the puck well, has consecutive 40-plus point performances on his resume and his best seasons are ahead of him. It's assumed he could improve his overall game with better coaching.
All of those factors, however, are also good reasons why the Flames shouldn't part with Hamilton. He's still young with considerable upside. By trading him, there's a real risk he could reach his full potential elsewhere.
It'll take a substantial offer to pry him away from the Flames, probably a very good young forward. That could mean someone like Nylander or Coyotes left winger Max Domi, or perhaps an experienced physical scorer such as Chris Kreider of the Rangers.
Hamilton's contract is also a sticking point. At $5.75 million per season through 2020-21, there simply aren't many teams able to take on that salary right now. If the Flames do move Hamilton, it'll likely happen in the off-season, when teams have more cap space and a willingness to trade.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Connor McDavid (left) and Sidney Crosby
The two phenoms from different generations are staking their claims early and this is the first of what will likely be several showdowns for MVP honors
So there was some nice hockey played Thursday night. You may have seen it. You may have also noticed that two of the biggest names in the sport were right in the thick of the matter. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby notched his league-leading 16th goal of the campaign, while Oilers captain Connor McDavid kept his perch atop the NHL scoring pile by tallying three assists, giving him 34 points through 25 games.
This is fun, people. Because this is the first year in which Crosby and McDavid will go head-to-head for the Hart Trophy. We probably have a couple seasons of this happening, as eventually age will catch up with Crosby, while Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and others attempt to catch up with McDavid.
So with all due respect to Nikita Kucherov, Carey Price and Vladimir Tarasenko, let's take a look at the debate. First, let's take a look at Sid's artistry:
Ohhh, that's the good stuff. Not to be outdone, McDavid had an excellent scoring chance against the Jets last night by stripping the puck off defenseman Paul Postma in what can only be described as a spiritual de-pantsing. To put it another way, both Crosby and McDavid are hot right now. And barring injury – which has basically been the only thing to slow these players down in the past – we're looking at McDavid collecting his first-ever Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champ this season.
The Edmonton phenom is on pace for 111 points and as impressive as that is, his team is in a playoff position right now. As an explainer for Millennial Oilers fans, the playoffs happen after the NHL's 82 regular season game schedule. It's almost as exciting as the draft lottery.
Sarcasm aside, McDavid isn't the only one on his team having a good season and that means the world. I'm not calling them contenders just yet, but a post-season berth looks very real.
Meanwhile, Crosby has the best points-per-game mark in the NHL at 1.39. Missing the first six games of the year due to a concussion is the only thing keeping him from the scoring crown right now and even if he can't quite continue his torrid pace, he still has a great shot at 50 goals and the Rocket Richard Trophy. Right now, he's on pace for 106 points in 76 games.
Crosby has a slight edge in possession numbers (58 percent Corsi For vs. 55 percent for McDavid) and is better on faceoffs. But his supporting cast is also better in Pittsburgh – Evgeni Malkin is, himself, a Hart Trophy winner – so how do you compare the Penguin to the Oiler?
It may come down to the "feel" a bunch of writers get. The Hart, like most awards, is determined by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (or "FWAH!" as I pronounce it. And yes, I am a member). Crosby is widely acknowledged as the best player in the game right now, so does that give him a bit of an edge, should both players finish with similar stats? Or does the newness of McDavid propel him over the top? I mean, Sid's already got Harts, right?
We also have higher standards for the Penguins. Pittsburgh should make the playoffs, as the defending Stanley Cup champs. If they don't win the division, is that a knock on Sid? Meanwhile, McDavid getting Edmonton to the post-season would be seen as a big accomplishment.
It's a great debate and one we'll likely be hearing for quite some time. And the best part is, it involves two incredibly gifted players putting up a bunch of points and highlights.