Free agent defenseman Kris Russell is taking his time when it comes to deciding his future, and his patience has reportedly seen a new suitor, the Florida Panthers, come calling.
Free agency opened 11 days ago, but defenseman Kris Russell, who was a hot commodity at the trade deadline, has yet to find himself a place to play in the upcoming campaign. However, there may be a new suitor throwing their hat in the ring for the free agent blueliner.
As one of the top free agent defensemen remaining, Russell has likely positioned himself to land a deal with what could be a significant raise on the $2.6 million he earned during the 2015-16 campaign. That could make the chance Russell lands in Florida slim, though, even if the Cats are at the very least testing the waters on signing the rearguard.
Russell is coming off of a four-goal, 19-point season in 2015-16, which was actually a significant drop off in production from the 34- and 29-point campaigns he had posted in the two prior seasons.
That said, what appeals to some teams about Russell, for better or worse, isn’t his play with the puck, but his play without it. More specifically, teams seem to love Russell's shot-blocking acumen. Few players are as willing to lay in front of a blast as Russell is. For some teams, that willingness to block shots — especially on the penalty kill — is seen as incredibly valuable. But if Russell’s talent at blocking shots has him expecting a raise, it’s hard to imagine the Panthers are the landing spot for Russell given their cap situation and stable of defensemen.
Florida currently has seven defensemen locked up to contracts that could make them NHL regulars next season and less than $4.5 million in cap space for the upcoming campaign. The additions of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers to a D corps that already has Aaron Ekblad fills out the top three spots on the Panthers blueline. Paying Russell $3 million or more, which seems like what he could fetch on the open market, doesn’t seem like it would be a good fit financially for a blueliner who would probably sit fourth on the depth chart.
That’s even more true should the contract stretch beyond the 2016-17 campaign. There’s little-to-no chance that Jakub Kindl returns to the Panthers in 2017-18 as an unrestricted free agent, but Florida will still have to be wary of restricted free agent deals for Jonathan Huberdeau, Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic next season. That’s not to mention a $7.5 million cap hit for Eklbad that is set to kick in next season. Already, the Panthers have more than $60 million tied up in salary for 2017-18, and an extension for Huberdeau will definitely eat into what available cap space Florida does have.
Russell is likely looking for some sort of security in any deal he inks. He has already played for four organizations in his nine seasons in the NHL, and the longest he has been in one city came in the first four years of his career, all spent as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. That Russell hasn’t signed yet likely means he’s looking for the perfect fit in both term and dollars. Florida could be that fit, but it might not be a deal that looks good on the Panthers if they hand Russell a raise on a deal that stretches more than two seasons.
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
The Canucks goaltender made 31 saves in a 4-2 loss at Chicago's United Center on Sunday.
Jonathan Toews’ goal with 1:18 remaining in the third period helped the Chicago Blackhawks double up the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 on Sunday night.
Toews put home the rebound off Richard Panik’s shot at 18:42 of the third period giving Chicago a 3-2 lead. Marian Hossa added his 18th, less than a minute later, into an empty net for the Blackhawks who have now won three straight.
Ryan Miller made 31 saves in the loss – his first regulation loss in 10 starts. Postgame Miller was none too pleased with the quality of the ice at Chicago’s United Center.
On the game winner, Panik's shot deflected off Alex Edler, bounced off the boards and to Toews, who buried his eighth of the season.
“That was the first flat puck all night,” Miller said per The Province. “This ice is the worst ice I’ve ever seen in my career. It was terrible and they’ve got to do something about it."
It was a milestone night for the Blackhawks. In addition to Toews’ seventh career four-point night, defenseman Brian Campbell picked up his 500th career point on Panik’s first period goal, Hossa’s empty netter was his 400th point as a member of the Blackhawks and Corey Crawford made 26 saves for his 200th career victory.
An already depleted Canucks blue line may be without the services of Edler. The veteran defenseman appeared to suffer a right wrist injury during the third period, but did finish the game.
“We have to wait and see, we are getting an update on him,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said per Jon Abbott.
Vancouver is already without defensemen Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Philip Larsen (concussion) and Ben Hutton (hand). Jordan Subban is the lone healthy blue liner on the Canucks active roster.
The Canucks continue their three-game road trip on Wednesday in Colorado.
John Tortorella became the first American-born coach to reach the 500-win mark, but Peter Laviolette managed the feat in fewer games and the numbers point to him being the best American NHL coach of all-time.
John Tortorella is used to making headlines, but when he did so as the first American-born coach to win 500 games in NHL history, it was reason to consider Tortorella among the greatest American-born big league coaches of all time. He has the Stanley Cup, the Jack Adams Award, the milestone 500th win and he’s climbing the all-time wins list with each passing victory.
But it’s hard to argue that Tortorella is the greatest American coach the NHL has seen with Peter Laviolette hot on his heels.
On Sunday, Laviolette did what Tortorella had done one month earlier: he became a 500-game winner, the second American-born NHL bench boss to hit the half-grand mark. The thing is, though, Laviolette’s climb to win No. 500 has been more impressive than Tortorella’s and it would seem as though it’s only a matter of time before Laviolette finds his way back on par or above Tortorella on the all-time wins list. And purely statistically speaking, it’s hard to argue with Laviolette being not just the better of the two bench bosses, but the best American-born NHL coach in history.
For some, putting Laviolette in the same conversation as Bob Johnson or Herb Brooks is akin to hockey heresy. There’s reason for that. The accomplishments of Johnson and Brooks are legendary. Johnson is arguably the greatest coach the NCAA has ever seen, a Hall of Famer twice over and a Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91. Johnson had his NHL tenure cut short, tragically passing away in November 1991 to brain cancer. Brooks was likewise a standout coach in the NCAA, a Hall of Famer three times over and most famous for leading the United States to gold at the 1980 Olympics. Sadly, Brooks passed away in August 2003 as the result of a car accident.
The legacies of both Johnson and Brooks are untouchable and their importance to the game as coaches in the United States will never be matched. For both, though, their greatest work and most lasting mark was made outside the NHL — Johnson at University of Wisconsin, Brooks for his part in the ‘Miracle On Ice.’
It’s hard to know where Johnson’s career would have gone had he been able to continue coaching. The 1991-92 Stanley Cup seemed a given, at the very least, but beyond that it’s impossible to say. He finished with 234 wins in 480 games behind the bench, and went 41-35 in the post-season. As for Brooks, he coached 506 games and has a perfect .500 points percentage — 219 wins, 219 losses, 66 ties and two defeats in extra time. In the playoffs, Brooks went 19-21. From a purely statistical point of view, neither matched what Laviolette or Tortorella has accomplished in the NHL.
So if Johnson and Brooks are removed from the discussion, the debate comes down to Laviolette and Tortorella, with a handful of present-day coaches sprinkled in. Despite who’s added to the mix, though, it’s hard to choose anyone but Laviolette as the best American-born coach the league has seen.
While Tortorella was the first to 500 wins, it took him 1,028 games to pick up the milestone victory. By comparison, Laviolette added win No. 500 to his resume in game 970. The 58-game difference in coaching tenures is significant, too, because Laviolette is only 12 games back of Tortorella for the title of winningest American-born coach in league history. Tortorella has a career points percentage of .544, and Laviolette bests that with a mark of .577. And when it comes to the post-season, Laviolette has a decided edge.
Over the course of their respective careers, both Laviolette and Tortorella have seen the playoffs eight times. Over that span, Tortorella has been one-and-done on four separate occasions, while Laviolette has advanced to the second round five of eight times. Both have two post-season runs that went beyond two rounds under their belt and both have a Stanley Cup victory — bookending the lockout with Tortorella winning in 2003-04 with Tampa Bay, Laviolette in 2005-06 in Carolina — but Laviolette has the edge with a second trip to the final. He led Philadelphia to an Eastern Conference championship in 2009-10 and came two wins shy of adding a second Cup to his trophy case.
From a win percentage standpoint, Laviolette holds the edge, too. In 102 playoff games, his teams have won 52. Tortorella’s squads, by comparison, are below .500 in post-season action, dropping 43 of 89 games.
As far as accolades go, the only thing separating the two is a Jack Adams Award. Tortorella won coach of the year for his job in Tampa Bay during the Lightning’s title-winning season, and there’s a fair chance he’s adding a second Jack Adams this season for the job he’s done in turning around the Blue Jackets. Laviolette, on the other hand, is a two-time finalist, coming a single vote shy of the award in 2005-06. Tortorella can have the individual awards, though, because there’s a good chance it’s Laviolette who holds the edge in victories when both coaches call it a career.
The debate about who is a better bench boss — Laviolette or Tortorella — is likely to continue until their careers are done, and it’s only going to get more crowded at the top. In just eight seasons, Dan Bylsma is already at the 300-win mark at the helm of a young Sabres team that is building for the future, Mike Sullivan’s Penguins have won 63 of 100 games under his direction and recently fired Jack Capuano is knocking on the door of his 235th win, which would put him one ahead of Johnson.
But right now, if you had one game to win and needed to choose one American-born coach, Laviolette’s numbers have shown that he’s the best bet to get the job done.
Some teams we thought were going to be good are currently sitting outside the playoff picture. These are our picks for teams that will rebound in the second half.
With the all-star break this weekend, we're officially at the mid-way point of the season. Every NHL team has played between 44 and 50 games, and it's certainly time to start scoreboard and standings watching. Thanks to the NHL's artificial parity there are a lot of teams right on the playoff bubble.
That means some teams we thought were going to be good are currently sitting outside the playoff picture. With that in mind, here are our picks for teams currently on the outside that will sneak in come April.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa simply has too much talent not to pick things up in the second half and sneak back in (its possession numbers put them in the top half of the league). Steven Stamkos has the league’s second-best points-per-game average, and he’ll be a huge boost when he returns from injury. They also have a nice trade chip in Ben Bishop that they can use to shore up the blueline (Kevin Shattenkirk, anyone?). This team very much reminds me of the Kings, one that knows there’s no need to blow it out in the regular season when playoff seeding is meaningless. Not only will the Lightning make the playoffs, they’ll make a strong push for the Cup. (Edward Fraser)
Los Angeles Kings
About this time five years ago, the Los Angeles Kings were mucking around the Western Conference, losing almost as many games as they were winning and flirting with both a playoff spot and disaster. And we all know how that turned out. After 46 games this season, the Kings are once again mucking around the west, winning a couple more games than they’ve lost, not able to score much and not looking like much of a contender. That will change. First of all, Jonathan Quick has to come back at some point and March seems to be the target date. So the Kings will win the trade deadline when a rested and motivated Quick gets back into the net. Second, the Kings are too good, too experienced and too pedigreed for this to continue. Look for the Kings to make a second-half surge, aided by a healthy Quick in the last quarter, and squeak into the playoffs. Just like they did five years ago. (Ken Campbell)
The Dallas Stars will have to pass four teams if they expect to make the post-season, but they have two of the best offensive horses in the league in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin to lead the charge. I expect the Stars to do something about their goaltending before the trade deadline and when they do squeak in, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them favored if they matched up against Minnesota in the first round. (Brian Costello)
One could have been predicted the Lighting would take a step back this season, but not even the most bold prognosticator would have picked the Bolts to be last in the Eastern Conference with the all-star break in the offing. The injury to Steven Stamkos has hurt in a big way, but Tampa Bay still has an incredibly talented roster that is simply underperforming right now. That hasn’t been helped by the lack of consistency from either of their goaltenders. The good news is that with 34 games remaining, the Lightning are only five points out of the final Atlantic Division playoff berth and five points back of the final wild-card spot. That is far from insurmountable for a team that boasts Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Victor Hedman. Stringing together a couple wins could have Tampa Bay right back in the mix. (Jared Clinton)
The Kings are hovering around a playoff spot right now and have been doing it without star goalie Jonathan Quick. Once he returns (a timeline would be nice, but what can you do?), Los Angeles gets a huge boost. Even though Peter Budaj has pretty good stats, I think the Kings will just play bigger with Quick back, because he can be that security blanket. Also, Anze Kopitar has four goals right now and there’s no way his pace stays that low. The big man is shooting at five percent right now, down from 14 percent the year prior. If he even moderately gets on track, the Kings will be back in the post-season, no problem. (Ryan Kennedy)