Playoff Photo Gallery - Day 11
Christopher Higgins of the Canadiens gets the puck past Tim Thomas of the Bruins. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Playoff Photo Gallery - Day 11
A selection of the best images from April 19..
Christopher Higgins of the Canadiens gets the puck past Tim Thomas of the Bruins. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
A selection of the best images from April 19..
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.
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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Expect the Red Wings playoff streak to end this season, especially if they don't start giving more ice time to their best players.
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: 5th in Atlantic
Stanley Cup odds: 32-1
Key additions: Frans Nielsen, C; Thomas Vanek, LW; Steve Ott, C
Key departures: Pavel Datsyuk, C; Brad Richards, C; Kyle Quincey, D; Joakim Andersson, C
-Does the playoff streak end this year? Yes, 25 years will be the capper. The Red Wings have simply lost too much top-end talent the past few years, and Pavel Datsyuk’s Russian retirement surely seals their fate. Without Datsyuk, Detroit returns just one player who tallied more than 45 points last year: captain Henrik Zetterberg (a team-leading 50 points). Thomas Vanek sure isn’t going to move mountains, and Frans Nielsen’s impact will be more in the two-way department. Plus, Tomas Jurco may start the season on the shelf while recovering from a back injury – and he was a guy they needed to make a leap this year.
-Who will be the most effective defenseman? With Niklas Kronwall’s career on the wrong side of a tipping point, it might be Danny DeKeyser. The Red Wings had incredibly stratified usage when it came to their blueline last year, and DeKeyser played the toughest minutes of all. Second place went to Kyle Quincey, but he’s gone. At least one more salvageable season from Kronwall would go a very long way, but he already has a knee problem that kept him from the World Cup.
-What can we expect from Dylan Larkin? Continued ascent, for sure. Larkin labored in the second half of his rookie campaign, and coming off one year in college (where the game schedule is light) may have been a factor. But now the splendid young center knows what to expect, and the speed he used as jet fuel during all-star weekend festivities will be used even more effectively thanks to a full summer of training. Once Larkin really takes hold, he’s the offensive heir apparent to the outgoing Zetterberg/Datsyuk alliance.
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 was once the model franchise, but they’ve been in a serious tailspin over the past few seasons, and with the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, continuing their playoff streak will be a tall order.
The biggest issue in Detroit is minute distribution. Too much ice-time is given to guys who don’t really help the team and not enough is given to their best players.
Last season, Luke Glendening averaged 14:34 minutes per game while Tomas Tatar averaged 14:21. Some might argue that Tatar wasn’t producing enough to earn more minutes (what’s Glendening’s excuse?), but his 5-on-5 points per 60 stayed constant from the 2014-15 to 2015-16 season and his primary points per 60 actually increased. He’s also one of the team’s best play drivers. Glendening doesn’t produce or drive play, but somehow earned more ice-time. That simply shouldn’t be happening.
That’s not all. Gustav Nyquist, one of the team’s best offensive threats, was getting middle-six ice-time while Justin Abdelkader, a third-liner on any other team, got first line minutes. On defense, Brendan Smith was the team’s 6th or 7th D-man on most nights, despite being the team’s best play-driving D-man. That possession ability translated into the team’s highest 5-on-5 goals percentage, but who cares about goals, right?
Here’s a simple experiment showcasing just how inefficient Detroit’s lineup structuring is. Let’s pretend every team gave their best players (according to this model) the most ice-time and their worst the least. Their best player would get an average No. 1 forward ice-time, their second best an average No. 2 and so on. This would create an “optimal” lineup according to Game Score, with the difference between their actual lineup showing how efficient it is.
Here are the results of that (which don’t factor if a 13th forward or 7th D-man are better than someone else in the lineup). Detroit is last. By a lot.
This model is by no means perfect, but if you’ve been tracking each of these previews you’d see it generally does a decent job of valuing the best players on each team. That’s not to say this is how every lineup should be constructed, there’s other things to consider like chemistry, fatigue and effort level. But when a team is as inefficient as the Red Wings, it’s definitely a problem worth looking into.
Detroit likely doesn’t make the playoffs this year, and if their ice-time deployment is anything like last year’s they’ll only have themselves to blame.
Up next: Nashville Predators
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
The undersized but feisty defenseman made a statement in his first exhibition game and while he may not be an overnight success, he is helping blaze a trail
Vancouver Canucks fans got a treat last night – a glimpse of the possibilities that come with defenseman Troy Stecher. An undrafted free agent signing out of the University of North Dakota, Stecher is competitive, a pain to play against, offensively dangerous and brings an active stick on the defensive end. Why was Stecher undrafted, you ask? Well, he was only 5-foot-10 and 179 pounds back then (now he’s up to 190).
Despite the fact he was putting up great numbers in the BCHL for Penticton (where he won the national Jr. A championship RBC Cup in 2012), the call never came and size is the most obvious factor. But timing was also against Stecher.
Only now are we really seeing smaller defensemen get a fair shake and I predict that the next two drafts will be watershed moments. Some of the most exciting blueliners available will, barring a growth spurt, come in at 5-foot-10 or less: Erik Brannstrom and Clayton Phillips in 2017 and Quinn Hughes in 2018.
I call it the “Jared Spurgeon Effect.”
The Minnesota Wild defenseman has managed to carve out a nice career for himself, despite coming in at 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds today, as a 26-year-old. Spurgeon was picked late by the New York Islanders in 2008 (he was their 12th pick, 156th overall), but went unsigned, inking a deal with the Wild instead. Last season, he played the toughest minutes of any Minnesota player while also ranking second in scoring and ice time (Ryan Suter was first in both cases) among Wild blueliners. Dude can play, even if he’s not built like a cement-mixer.
Which is where Stecher comes in. Will he make the Canucks this season? Hard to say right this second, but he’s definitely making great noise for the future. Just check out his poise and vision on this set-up from last night against Edmonton:
All told, Stecher had a goal and two assists in a 5-3 exhibition win over the Oilers. Vancouver can look at what Spurgeon has done and see Stecher’s future. The game is faster now and puckmoving defensemen are at a premium. If you can carry it and dish it, you’re a lot more valuable than the old-school bouncer who made sure the crease was a no-fly zone for opponents. And hey; you still need that element to an extent, but hockey smarts and an active stick can be just as effective.
While GMs have been reticent in the past to draft small early, Arizona made a big statement this summer when the Coyotes took center Clayton Keller (5-foot-10, 168 pounds) with the seventh pick overall. Now that the forwards taboo has been broken, can defensemen be next? It’s tricky, because traditionally progress has been slow. But with more teams employing analytics gurus, or execs with that background, perhaps the future will come sooner than expected.
And if Stecher should see time with the Canucks this season, even as a call-up in his first year of pro, then excuse the cliché, but he’ll be winning one for the little guy.