Bill Jezior, Philadelphia, Pa.
Bill Jezior, Philadelphia, Pa.
Cal Clutterbuck and John Tavares
Cal Clutterbuck’s five-year extension won’t bite the Islanders for a couple of seasons, but when it does, it could cost the Islanders more than just money and cap flexibility.
Cal Clutterbuck is on pace to have his highest scoring season as a New York Islander, he’s averaging more ice time than he has in any other year with the club and he was given an alternate captaincy ahead of the campaign.
And even with all that, it’s hard to understand how exactly the Islanders saw fit to have the 29-year-old winger a five-year, $17.5-million extension.
Clutterbuck is undoubtedly one of the best at playing the specific role he plays, which is to say that if you’re looking for a hard-nosed player who’s going to put his body on the line, he’s your guy. Fans love him, teammates assuredly do, too, and he’s exactly the kind of bottom-six player that most GMs around the league would love to have on their team at the right price.
Problem is that it’s really tough to call $3.5 million per season the right price, and that’s exactly what Clutterbuck will be earning come the start of the 2017-18 campaign. That’s roughly the same cap hit as others such as Kyle Turris, Cam Atkinson, Joel Ward and Matt Read will be carrying next season, and that’s only to name a few.
Another worrisome part about the deal is that it’s hard to see how even the biggest fitness freak could maintain their ability to play Clutterbuck’s style into their mid-30s. The wear and tear on Clutterbuck’s body by the time he reaches the back-end of the contract could be substantial. Despite him playing up the lineup right now, he’s better suited to a bottom-six role and definitely will be later in his career. If he loses a step, $3.5 million will be a lot to fork over for a fourth-line winger and it’ll be a deal that’s near impossible to move.
But it goes beyond simply the signing of Clutterbuck, because there has now been a trio of deals handed out by Islanders GM Garth Snow that have been puzzling — and, truthfully, concerning — when it comes to the future of the team.
Ahead of free agency, there was the signing of Casey Cizikas to a five-year, $16.75-million deal. Then came the monster seven-year, $38.5-million contract inked by free agent Andrew Ladd. The Clutterbuck signing is No. 3.
It should be noted that the deals for Clutterbuck, Cizikas and Ladd don’t actually prevent the Islanders from doing all that much in the next two seasons. In fact, as of next season, every single current Islander forward will be locked up to a contract. Come 2018-19, when John Tavares becomes a free agent, the slate is wiped rather clean with the team able to operate with more than $40 million in cap space. Beyond Tavares, the Islanders’ UFAs come 2018-19 will include Josh Bailey, Nikolai Kulemin, Jason Chimera, Mikhail Grabovski and Thomas Hickey.
And $40-plus million can buy you a lot, and certainly it will allow the Islanders to hang on to Tavares, if he chooses to remain with the team. (Not to say he won’t, but a lot can happen between now and July 2018.) All the UFAs, save maybe Bailey and Hickey, will be allowed to head elsewhere, as well. A restricted free agent deal for Brock Nelson could be pricey, but the Islanders should realistically be able to lock him up. As of right now, the Islanders will also be without an NHL goaltender under contract, but there will be stop-gap options available. So, yes, the Islanders should be fine in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
However, things could get dicey after that.
Come 2019-20, the Islanders will watch Travis Hamonic become a UFA, see the end of entry-level deals for Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Joshua Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle and still have more than $12.3 million locked up in Ladd, Cizikas and Clutterbuck. Finding the money to lock up those five players, as well as any others who could be seeking new contracts around that time, will be incredibly difficult.
The cost of those trio of deals goes beyond money and cap space, though, because there’s a serious possibility the Islanders could waste some of the best years of Tavares’ career. If the Islanders can only afford to hang on to the pieces they have without being able to add any veteran or prime-aged players, it gets hard to see how this franchise takes the next step forward, even with Tavares in his prime.
They’ll need a few adds on defense, a few forwards who can contribute and the goaltending situation will need to be figured out. Ilya Sorokin should give Islanders fans hope, but even the best goaltending prospects sometimes don’t pan out in the big league. If the Islanders need to improve in goal when their prospects are hitting their stride, the money spent in the past seven months could very well prevent that from becoming a reality.
It’s big-money, head-scratcher deals like Clutterbuck’s that teams have had to buy their way out of in the past, and it’s scary to think the Islanders could have set themselves up for the same fate three times over. The Islanders' post-season performance was reason for excitement, but now it seems, more than anything, there's cause for concern about what the future could hold.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
The Blue Jackets have been the most pleasant surprise in the NHL this season, but it's still going to take convincing for the hockey world to believe they're for real.
We’ll totally understand if you’re having just a little trouble getting on board with the 2016-17 version of the Columbus Blue Jackets. After all, you’ve probably been burned before.
Their fan base certainly seems to be wary. Despite the fact the Blue Jackets are the surprise of the NHL and have emerged as one of the most dynamic and exciting teams in the league, they drawn fewer than 12,000 in three of their past four home games. Even their coach thinks the team has work to do to earn their fans’ trust. “I want our team to have a chip on their shoulder,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella told Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch recently. “I think they should. We’re trying to get respect in the league. Quite honestly, we should be disrespected because of where we’ve been.”
That won’t last long if the Blue Jackets keep this up. The league’s best power play continues to fuel one of the league’s hottest teams and has landed them at the top of thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings for the second time this season. Last week’s rankings in parentheses:
CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Columbus Blue Jackets (8)
2. Philadelphia Flyers (15)
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (6)
4. St. Louis Blues (2)
5. Chicago Blackhawks (5)
6. Montreal Canadiens (7)
7. New York Rangers (4)
8. San Jose Sharks (11)
9. Boston Bruins (20)
10. Calgary Flames (27)
Is there a bigger bargain or a shrewder off-season signing than Sam Gagner?...Steve Mason went from one of the worst goalies in the NHL early in the season to one of the best of late. His save percentage in his first 16 games was .892, but has improved to .947 in his past five… If Marc-Andre Fleury wants to get traded, he’s not doing himself any favor with his play lately…The Blues completed a 4-0-1 home stand with the game going into overtime…With Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford already out, the Blackhawks lost defenseman Brent Seabrook in their 4-0 win over Arizona Tuesday night…How will the Canadiens and the surprising Alexander Radulov respond to the injury to Alex Galchenyuk?...The injury-ravaged Rangers saw Rick Nash go down with a groin injury and Matt Puempel to a concussion in their 4-2 loss to the Islanders Tuesday night…Joe Thornton passed Brendan Shanahan for 25th all-time on the NHL’s scoring list with an assist in a 2-1 win over Montreal last week…Anyone who predicted David Pastrnak would be in Rocket Richard Trophy contention a third of the way into the season is looking very bright at the moment…The Flames were already one of the hottest teams in the NHL without Johnny Gaudreau, then won their first two with him back in the lineup.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Washington Capitals (11)
12. Edmonton Oilers (14)
13. Ottawa Senators (12)
14. Los Angeles Kings (1)
15. New Jersey Devils (23)
16. Detroit Red Wings (16)
17. Nashville Predators (3)
18. Minnesota Wild (19)
19. Anaheim Ducks (10)
20. Winnipeg Jets (17)
Capitals coach Barry Trotz had some pointed words to Alex Ovechkin about his penchant for taking minor penalties of late. No cracks in the foundation, though. Just a frank discussion…The Oilers game Tuesday night against Buffalo was touted as Connor McDavid vs. Jack Eichel, the kind of narrative the Oilers have learned to accept. “Every night it’s Connor vs. Somebody,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan…Goalie Craig Anderson started in the Senators’ 8-5 loss to Pittsburgh Monday night, but did not travel with the team for a three-game California trip to be with his wife as she undergoes treatment for throat cancer…The usually stingy Kings have given up 11 goals in their past three games. “That’s too many goals,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter…Devils winger Taylor Hall on the aftermath of his clean, but devastating, hit on Philip Larsen Tuesday night: “I feel terrible.” Not to be trite, but Hall should not be feeling terrible about the way he has played since returning from a knee injury. He has five points in his past two games…Goalie Jimmy Howard will be back in uniform for the Red Wings when they host Columbus Friday night, but will have a difficult time pushing Petr Mrazek out of the crease…After missing four games with an upper-body injury, James Neal scored a goal in a 4-3 Predators’ win over Colorado Tuesday night…Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, whose career was revived when he came to Minnesota, will make his 300th career start tonight in Toronto…Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle could not pull Jonathan Bernier during his team’s 8-3 loss to Calgary because backup John Gibson was battling a stomach virus…Over the past 30 years, only Teemu Selanne and Alex Ovechkin have scored goals at a better pace than Patrik Laine of the Jets is scoring them now.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. New York Islanders (26)
22. Tampa Bay Lightning (22)
23. Carolina Hurricanes (25)
24. Buffalo Sabres (29)
25. Florida Panthers (24)
26. Vancouver Canucks (18)
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (13)
28. Dallas Stars (28)
29. Arizona Coyotes (21)
30. Colorado Avalanche (30)
With points in each of their past five games, four of them wins, the Islanders are easily on their most successful string of the season…The Lightning could get Ryan Callahan, Jason Garrison and Jonathan Drouin back for their home game against Vancouver Thursday night…Jordan Staal, sidelined for the past four games with a concussion, likely won’t be available to the Hurricanes for a three-game road trip through California that begins tonight…After playing almost 500 games in the minors, defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer made his NHL debut in the Sabres’ 3-2 overtime win over Washington Tuesday night… Panthers have gone to overtime in four of their five games GM Tom Rowe has been behind the bench. They’ve won one in overtime, lost two in OT and one in a shootout…Philip Larsen, who was taken off the ice on a stretcher after a hit from Taylor Hall Tuesday night, was released from hospital in New Jersey Wednesday morning and was cleared to return to Vancouver while the Canucks continue on a five-game road trip…After waiving Jhonas Enroth, the Maple Leafs search for a backup goalie continues. They signed Karri Ramo to a professional tryout contract and assigned him to their farm team. That should cure everything…The Coyotes have been outscored 14-6 and have averaged 41 shots against per game in an 0-3-1 month of December…All nine of Matt Duchene’s goals this season have come on the road. The Avs could use that kind of production at the Pepsi Center, where they’re 4-8-1 this season and recently went 0-4-1 on a five-game homestand.
Connor McDavid and Brandon Manning
Connor McDavid didn’t mince his words when asked post-game about Brandon Manning. He called the Flyers defenseman “classless” and said Manning admitted to injuring him on purpose.
Connor McDavid has had no shortage of head-to-head battles with young stars in the game. There has been outings against Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and more than handful per year against the Flames duo of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
But of all the players Connor McDavid could have had an on-ice feud with, it seems Brandon Manning is the first real rival for the Oilers phenom.
One might recall that it was during the early part of the 2015-16 campaign that Manning, a Philadelphia Flyers blueliner, got tangled up with McDavid as he looked to break in on goal, resulting in McDavid making hard contact with the boards behind the net. The impact with the boards saw McDavid break his collarbone and led to a 37-game absence for the then-rookie.
It was believed to be an unintentional act, something that simply happened as part of the game, and McDavid had even absolved Manning of any blame. That was until last night, more than 13 months after the Nov. 3, 2015 injury to McDavid..
During the Oilers’ hard-fought 6-5 defeat at the hands of the Flyers, McDavid was seen verbally jousting with Manning on a couple of occasions. The most obvious case came after a power play goal by McDavid, where he was seen skating towards Manning and shouting something in his direction.
It didn’t end there, though. Post-game, the Oilers captain went in on Manning, calling the hit that led to the broken collarbone an intentional act.
"I did all I could defending him last year in the media," McDavid said. "Everyone wanted to make a big deal saying he did it on purpose, and he wanted to say some comments today about what went on last year. I thought it was one of the [most] classless things I've ever seen on the ice. He said some things and our guys responded accordingly. I guess we can put the whole 'if he did it on purpose' thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that. Shows what kind of guy he is when he doesn’t step up and fight some of our guys.”
Shortly after McDavid commented on the incident, Manning fired back saying that he would “never intentionally hurt someone,” and added that’s not the way he plays.
"Anybody who knows me, I play a hard game,” Manning said, according to NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman. “That's the reason I'm here, that's the way I'm in the NHL. I'm not here to score goals like some of those guys. I think I play an honest game, and anyone who knows me knows I play hard and stuff happens out there."
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Philip Larsen got knocked unconscious, the Canucks retailiated without knowing what happened, and they could have hurt their teammate even worse in the process.
The incident was horrific. We can all agree on that.
Tuesday night in New Jersey, Vancouver Canucks blueliner Philip Larsen skated behind his net to retrieve a puck. He had no idea Devils left winger Taylor Hall was pursuing the same puck. They collided heavily. Larsen bashed his head on the ice and was knocked out cold.
It was a scary scene, undoubtedly, one that understandably evoked a ton of emotion from Larsen's teammates. It was hardly a surprise to see a flurry of Vancouver players swarm Hall and make him fight.
It was a shame, however, for multiple reasons. First off, the hit wasn't dirty. It wasn't even a deliberate bodycheck. Hall leaned back on his skates to slow his momentum and held out his arms as if protecting himself from imminent impact. It was more of a crash than a bonecrushing hit. We can debate whether Larsen's head was the principal point of contact – I don't believe it was at all – but it's irrelevant when assessing Hall's guilt. There was no intent there. He won't be disciplined by the NHL for an accident.
And yet, thanks to the sport's culture of immediate and forceful vengeance, Hall had to fight anyway. In the spur of the moment, in the heat of elite competition, players are simply too jacked up to take a breath and assess the situation. They see a comrade fall and, in mere milliseconds, seek and destroy whoever caused the harm.
“You always have a problem with a hit when one of your guys gets hit hard," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins told the Vancouver Province's Jason Botchford after the the game. "It doesn’t matter if it’s a clean hit. You have a problem when a guy gets hit that hard. I think all coaches would.”
The ironic thing about this tough-guy mentality is that it could end up pushing one of the toughest things about hockey out of the game: good, clean hits. If the swarm mentality goes on much longer, the only guys willing to lay opponents out with big hits will be those ready and willing to drop the gloves right afterward. Sooner or later players might decide it's not worth sitting five minutes and/or risking injury just to put a lick on a guy. And, in Hall's case, he wasn't even trying to drill Larsen.
Will we ever stop seeing players attacked after clean hits? I doubt it. The revenge assault is a crime of passion, a snap decision. But maybe, just maybe, the Canucks and players all over the world can learn a bit from what happened right after Larsen got hit. Watch:
The first instinct, sadly, is not to help Larsen, but to destroy Hall. Center Michael Chaput immediately starts a fight. That causes a pileup of players from both teams – all around the unconscious Larsen. It's downright disturbing to see him getting kicked in the head by his own teammates’ skates. Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom tries to box out Larsen and keep him safe. Markus Granlund tries as well but has to step over and onto Larsen in the process. It’s a miracle Larsen wasn’t cut. None of that would've happened had Chaput thought of Larsen first.
The ugly scene is a reminder that, right after a teammate takes a massive hit, the first priority should be to protect him. The best way to do that isn't to attack his attacker. It's to attend to the teammate first. There's plenty of time to review what happened and take down the perpetrator's number for later in the game. That's what jumbo-tron replays are for. And, in cases like Hall's, the violence would be averted altogether if players watched the replay and realized it was an accident.
Sadly, the idea is a pipe dream, and I don’t expect players to learn from Larsen's fate anytime soon. But we can always hope.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin