"This is another team we don't really like."
- Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa on his team's opponent in Round 2, the Chicago Blackhawks.
"This is another team we don't really like."
- Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa on his team's opponent in Round 2, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Jesse Puljujarvi is starting to find his game at the pro level during his stay in the AHL, and he’s not the first top-10 pick to need some seasoning in the minors before attempting to make an impact in the NHL.
Jesse Puljujarvi’s stay in the NHL dragged on much longer than it should have. There’s not going to be many arguments about that. Drafted fourth overall by the Oilers, he came into the lineup, scored in his first game of the campaign, but was back watching from the press box by the Oilers’ fourth contest. He bounced in and out of the lineup into early January, and it wasn’t until Jan. 9 that Edmonton pulled the trigger and shipped him down to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors.
The move has been good for Puljujarvi, too.
In his first game with the Condors, Puljujarvi netted an assist. The next game, he added another, followed by a third assist in his third game in the minors. He kept his point streak going with a goal in game No. 4 in the AHL, doubled his goal total with another tally in his fifth game with the Condors and now, 15 games into his tenure in the AHL, Puljujarvi has five goals and 11 points. He’s coming off of a three-game goal streak, and in a recent outing against the Ontario Reign, Puljujarvi set a season-best when he registered six shots on goal. It’s safe to say he’s starting to find his game at the pro level.
While Puljujarvi’s tough time in the NHL may have disappointed some, especially as Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Mitch Marner rip it up in their respective rookie seasons, that the 18-year-old is producing in the AHL is a good sign, and it could be the absolute best thing for his development. At his current pace, Puljujarvi is on pace to finish the season with a respectable 13 goals and 29 points in 39 games in the AHL. And if come next season the Oilers decide Puljujarvi could use a bit more time in the minors, at least they know it won’t hurt his confidence when it comes to his ability to produce.
There’s nothing wrong with spending some time in the AHL, either, as past top 10 picks have proven that sometimes a bit of seasoning in the minors can provide big returns. Here are five top-10 picks who have turned AHL development into success in the NHL:
5. Mikko Rantanen
Rantanen, like Puljujarvi, went straight from the draft to professional hockey. The difference, however, is that it didn’t take nearly as long for the Avalanche to make the decision to demote Rantanen, the 10th pick in 2015, in his rookie season. Six games into his stay with Colorado to start the 2015-16 campaign, he was sent down to the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage and the move paid off.
When he went to the minors, Rantanen was a force. In 52 games, he scored 24 goals and 60 points and finished second in scoring by a rookie despite the fact he took nearly two weeks off to head to the World Junior Championship and captain Finland to a gold medal. Altogether, only eight players of any position, age or status finished with more points than Rantanen.
Rantanen would have been a no-doubter to start the season in Colorado in 2016-17 if he hadn’t injured his ankle, but after a short four-game stint with the Rampage, he was back with the Avalanche. Now 48 games into his rookie campaign, he’s third on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 25 points.
4. William Nylander
There’s an argument to be made — and probably a good one — that Nylander’s stay in the AHL should have ended before this season. However, no one’s about to argue with the results, and the Toronto Marlies were sure glad to have the shifty Swede for close to 100 games over the past two full seasons.
Nylander was taken eighth overall by the Maple Leafs in 2014, and by the middle of 2014-15, he had been loaned to Marlies. Over the course of his first 37 games in the league, Nylander scored 14 goals and 32 points, and when he returned to Toronto for the start of the 2015-16 season, he took his scoring in the AHL to a new level. In 38 games, he registered 18 goals and 45 points. It was enough to earn Nylander a call up by the end of February, and he stuck with the Maple Leafs through to the end of the 2015-16 season.
Now, in his rookie NHL campaign, Nylander has pieced together a 14-goal, 36-point season and is on pace for a 20-goal, 50-point year. It took longer for him to become a full-time NHLer than most would have expected given his AHL production, but Toronto’s patience is paying off.
3. Logan Couture
The Sharks did some nifty maneuvering on draft day in 2007 to climb the draft and grab Couture, but just because they wanted him so badly didn’t mean they were about to rush his development. That’s why, across the 2009-10 season, San Jose had no issue sending him up and down, bouncing him between the NHL and AHL.
By the time the 2009-10 campaign ended, Couture had been recalled by San Jose and subsequently assigned to Worcester, which housed the Sharks’ AHL team, six times. The first recall came on Oct. 25, 2009 and the final time he was brought up was on March 18, 2010. It worked, though. In the AHL, Couture scored 20 goals and 53 points in 42 games, and by the time he became a full-time NHLer in 2010-11, he was ready to contribute.
Couture scored 32 goals and 56 points in his rookie season with the Sharks and he finished second in Calder Trophy voting, only narrowly defeated by Jeff Skinner. Only four players from the 2007 draft have scored more goals and the only players with a greater points per game are Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn.
2. Karl Alzner
Comparing a defensive defenseman to a potentially explosive winger like Puljujarvi isn’t easy, but it’s worth mentioning Alzner this high on the list because he was a fifth overall pick in 2007 who didn’t become a full-time NHLer until 2010. Once he did, though, Alzner became a staple of the Capitals’ back end and one of the most consistent players in the organization.
The road to Washington, however, went directly through Hershey, and Alzner’s time with the Bears wasn’t short. He first suited up in Hershey to start the 2008-09 season, and if you thought Couture’s up-and-down period with the Sharks was a lot, get a load of Alzner’s. From October 2009 to April 2010, Alzner was sent back and forth between the AHL and NHL 11 times. Seven of those came during the 2009-10 campaign, too.
By the time Alzner was finally a full-timer in the big league, he had played more than 100 games in the AHL, scoring four goals and 41 points along the way. But since the start of the 2010-11 campaign, Alzner hasn’t missed a single game in Washington, playing more than 500 games in a row. He’s one of the key cogs on the blueline for a team in position to really take a run at the Stanley Cup.
1. Bobby Ryan
Ryan was never going to get a fair shake in the seasons that immediately followed the draft because no matter how well he played, he wasn’t Sidney Crosby. It couldn’t have been easy going second overall in the 2006 draft behind arguably the best player of the modern era. And the scrutiny surrounding Ryan was even higher when, come the 2007-08 season, Ryan wasn’t able to crack the Ducks roster on a full-time basis.
Ryan started the 2007-08 season in Anaheim, but after four games he was back in the AHL. It would take more than two months for him to get back into the NHL, that stint ended in less than three weeks, and he wasn’t up again until there were only four weeks remaining in the season. The hope was he’d be a full-time NHLer to start the 2008-09 season, but that wasn’t the case to start the year. Instead, he played 14 games in the AHL before getting the call up.
He took off from there, though. Ryan scored 31 goals and 57 points in 64 games to finish second in Calder voting. The next season, he chipped in 35 goals and 64 points and proceeded to notch at least 31 goals in each of the next two seasons.
Ryan’s scoring ability made him the poster child for patient development through the AHL. Between the regular season and playoffs, Ryan played more than 100 games in the Ducks’ farm system, and it paid dividends. His first four full seasons saw him score 131 goals and 249 points in 309 games. Only nine players scored more goals during that four-year span.
While Ryan’s play has since dropped off, there’s no denying that his time in the AHL certainly didn’t hurt his development.
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Bill Belichick. Image by: Steve Babineau/Getty Images
Love them or hate them, the New England Patriots know how to win, and here are five things the Patriots do that NHL teams should be doing more of.
So the Super Bowl was on Sunday, and you'll never guess who won.
Oh right, you would, because it was the team that wins all the time. The New England Patriots captured their fifth title of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era, and second in the last three years. Factor in two other AFC championships and thirteen division titles in fourteen years, there's little doubt that the Patriots have established themselves as the model franchise in not just the NFL, but all of pro sports.
So what can NHL teams learn from them?
That's a bit of a tricky question. Hockey and football are very different sports. And many key Patriot trademarks, like smart drafting and development and game-planning to take away an opponents' strengths, are things that every team tries to do. More importantly, not every team can have an all-time legend at the sport's most important position fall into their lap with a sixth-round pick.
But there are some lessons that we can learn from the Patriots' success that would be applicable to other sports, and NHL coaches are apparently already taking note. So love them or hate them, here are five things the Patriots could probably teach your favorite hockey team.
Don’t be afraid of trading
Mention a trade to most NHL GMs, and you'll get a familiar refrain: It's too hard. The cap complicates everything, prices are too high, the market isn't quite set yet. You don't want to trade when things are going bad, because that's when you'll be pressured into a mistake. But you also don't want to trade when things are going well, because then you'll mess up your chemistry. Better to just sit back, play it conservative and stick with what you've got.
Meanwhile, the Patriots do this:
Patriots have made 62 trades outside of draft day since 2001, including 8 since the start of last offseason; both figures, most in the NFL.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 5, 2017
It's true that the trading landscape is very different in the NFL, the deadline comes much earlier in the season, and player-for-player trades are far rarer.
But the point is that the Patriots don't sit around looking for excuses to stand pat. They reshape the roster aggressively, even when they're having success, and they do it with every tool available to them. More than a few NHL GMs could learn a lesson from that.
For what it's worth, many of those Patriots trades fall into a specific category that could use its own section.
Deal your way down the draft
Belichick is the master of trading down in the draft, stockpiling picks along the way. It's become almost a punchline, and it doesn't work out every time, but the philosophy is clear: More picks are better than high picks.
We're seeing this sort of thinking trickle into the NHL, with mixed results. The Maple Leafs seemed to be following the Belichick model in 2015, trading down twice to turn a late-first-round pick into an early second, another second and a third. Then that first round pick turned into Travis Konecny, which might give some GMs pause when it comes to following the Leafs' lead.
Still, once you get past the top few picks, the NHL draft starts to feel like a lottery, and the best way to win a lottery is to have as many tickets as possible. The math says that trading down is usually smart, and it wouldn't be surprising to see more teams applying the idea as much as possible.
Belichick takes it one step further, occasionally trading a pick in the current draft for a better pick in future years. Legendary Habs' GM Sam Pollock was the master of that move, but today's NHL teams don't do it very often, leaving it as a tactic that could be open for exploiting.
Character counts, but don't pay for it
NHL teams love to talk about knowing how to win. To hear them tell it, winning isn't just an end goal – it's a skill, one that some people have and some just don’t.
That's why teams are so eager to get into bidding wars for players who have a reputation as a winner, and so eager to move on from anyone who doesn't fit that mold. Every year, we see huge chunks of cap space spent on character and intangibles. Never mind that those same deals often end up being among the very worst mistakes made each year, NHL GMs can't get enough of them.
Compare that to how things work in New England. You could say that they don't need to pay for winners, because they've already won. But that's the whole point. To the Patriots, a winning environment is something you build from the inside out, not something you go out and buy on the open market.
If anything, the Patriots go the other way – they target players who've been discarded elsewhere over concerns about attitude or intangibles. From Randy Moss to Chad Johnson to Corey Dillon to LeGarrette Blount, the Pats focus on skill, and let the character lesson take care of itself. Most hockey teams seem to prefer the reverse, and they pay for it.
Loyalty is for losers
That sounds harsh, but it's hard to argue that a big part of the fabled "Patriot way" involves discarding anyone who no longer fits the plan. That includes fan favorites, beloved veterans, guys who've won rings with you -- everyone. From Drew Bledsoe to Lawyer Milloy to Vince Wilfork to Jamie Collins, Belichick and the Patriots won't hesitate to send a star player packing if he doesn't represent value anymore.
Even Brady has suggested that Belichick would "absolutely" trade him too if he thought it made sense. He's not wrong.
Compare that approach to most NHL teams, who view loyalty as a sacred virtue. Letting an established player walk away for nothing is considered a cardinal sin in NHL circles, so GMs scramble to lock in as many players as possible to long-term deals. And if that player has helped you win a championship, well, you make sure they're taken care of. It's how otherwise smart teams end up signing albatross contracts like Bryan Bickell and Dustin Brown.
Granted, the NFL's lack of guaranteed contracts makes it easier to move on. But if anything, that should make NHL teams even more careful about falling into the loyalty trap, knowing how much it will cost to escape from those deals. Instead, GMs can't seem to help themselves.
Not the Patriots. When it comes to putting the best roster in place, they're absolutely heartless. That can be tough on fans who see their favorite players tossed aside, but it helps in the win column.
Exploit every advantage
Belichick and the Pats are famous for finding and exploiting every possible edge. New England fans call that smart. Fans of other teams have been known to call it "cheating," which is a debate for another day. But even if we put aside the video-taping, deflated balls and malfunctioning headsets, the Pats' mantra is clear: Do absolutely anything, no matter how small, that might help you on the scoreboard.
In a sense, this doesn't feel like it should be on the list, since it basically boils down to "always do everything you can to win." What team doesn't do that?
Well… plenty of NHL teams don't, at least when it comes to certain areas. Take offer sheets, for example. Young players just entering their prime are gold in today's NHL, and you'd think that poaching one from a rival would be a top priority for any GM. Instead, there's a virtual league-wide ban on taking advantage of a tool that's sitting right there for anyone to use.
That's just one example. Some teams refuse to ask their players to waive NTCs. Some still don't bother with analytics. Some refuse to exploit CBA loopholes. The list goes on. In the grand scheme, most of those examples are small things. But the Patriots realize that in a parity-driven league, the small things add up to big edges.
Let's face it, put Bill Belichick behind an NHL bench and he'd be calling for illegal stick measurements on every second play. Why? Because he could. Doing everything possible to try to win games shouldn't seem like a controversial stance to take, but in the NHL, it sometimes seems to be.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
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As the trade deadline approaches, the likes of the Stars, Lightning, Red Wings, Canucks, and Sabres could all start selling off some attractive assets.
For weeks, the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche were the only clubs considered sellers in the NHL trade market. But with the March 1 trade deadline less than three weeks away, several clubs with fading postseason hopes could join them.
Among them could be the Dallas Stars. After topping the Western Conference standings in 2015-16, the Stars were eight points out of a wild-card berth as of Feb. 10. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun believes the next couple of weeks will determine what action Stars GM Jim Nill takes leading up to the deadline. If they fail to gain ground in the standings, he could become a seller.
LeBrun speculates Nill could peddle some of his pending unrestricted free agents. Notables include forwards Patrick Sharp, Patrick Eaves, Jiri Hudler and Lauri Korpikosi. Of this group, Sharp and Eaves have the most value.
Sharp, 35, missed a significant chunk of this season to concussion symptoms. When healthy, however, he's a proven scorer with considerable playoff experience. Eaves, 32, is a versatile two-way forward who's flirting with a potential career-best 30-goal campaign.
Like Sharp, veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya has a solid postseason background. However, the 35-year-old is currently sidelined by a lower-body injury. That will hamper efforts to move him.
LeBrun also reports the Stars contacted the Pittsburgh Penguins regarding goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, but those discussions haven't gone far. It's widely assumed the Pens want to trade the 32-year-old netminder in order to protect young starter Matt Murray from the expansion draft in June.
If Fleury agrees to waive his no-movement clause to join the Stars, he might give them a much-needed goaltending boost to get back into playoff contention. Signed through 2018-19, he would be more than just a rental player.
Such a move, however, means shipping Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi to the Penguins or trading them to another club. Both have a year remaining on their contracts with no-trade clauses. Still, either guy might accept finishing this season with a Stanley Cup contender in Pittsburgh, even if it means being unprotected in the expansion draft.
The Tampa Bay Lightning could also go into sell mode soon. As of Feb.10, they were near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, six points out of a wild-card spot.
Considered a Stanley Cup contender entering this season, injuries hampered the Lightning for months. GM Steve Yzerman probably won't gut his roster because of one bad season, but he could look at moving out pending UFAs such as goaltender Ben Bishop and checking-line forward Brian Boyle.
Throughout this season, Yzerman's sought a top-four defenseman. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Bolts GM and Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic scouted last Friday's Anaheim Ducks game against the Florida Panthers. The Ducks are loaded with good young defenseman and Friedman speculates one of them could be dealt for a scoring forward.
The Ducks' biggest need is bolstering their scoring punch at left wing. With the Lightning carrying over $59 million in payroll for 2017-18 and left wingers Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin becoming restricted free agents this summer, perhaps there's a deal to be made There.
Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland could also become a seller by the deadline. His club is also mired near the bottom of the Eastern standings. Friedman thinks the Chicago Blackhawks might come calling if Holland puts winger Thomas Vanek on the trade block. The 33-year-old is on track for a 20-goal, 55-point season.
The Vancouver Canucks are another club that could join the deadline sellers. Earlier this season, Canucks GM Jim Benning said he wouldn't ask players with no-movement/no-trade clauses, such as goaltender Ryan Miller and winger Alex Burrows, to waive them. However, TSN's Bob McKenzie reports Benning might reconsider if there's interest in either guy.
Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray could also see an increase in trade inquiries over the next two weeks. There's talk pending UFA blueliner Dmitry Kulikov could attract attention from clubs seeking a skilled puck-moving rearguard.
Earlier this season, left winger Evander Kane was the subject of considerable trade chatter. That died down when the 26-year-old was sidelined by a rib injury. His improved performance in recent weeks, however, could rekindle that speculation. He's on pace for over 25 goals and 45 points.
Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News reports Kane's improvement is creating a dilemma for Sabres management. Do they keep Kane as a core player going forward, or take advantage of his improved play to sell high at the deadline in hopes of landing a top-four defenseman?
Kane's scoring skills and physical play could prove attractive. However, lingering off-ice baggage remains a serious sticking point.
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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Alexander Radulov is set to become a free agent and, at 30, he’s looking for a long-term deal. Comparing him to some other recently inked 30-plus year olds, Radulov sure seems worth the investment.
Alexander Radulov entered the season facing his fair share of naysayers. An incredible talent, no doubt, some thought it a head scratcher that the Canadiens would shell out nearly $6 million on a one-year deal for the Russian winger in hopes that his supreme scoring ways from the KHL would translate to the NHL game in a hurry. He hadn’t played in the NHL since 2011-12, yet here Montreal was, paying him like a top UFA on a show-me deal.
Well, show them he has. Through 57 games, Radulov is second on the Canadiens with 42 points and his 28 assists are tops on the team. At 18 minutes a game, Radulov has consistently been a fixture of the top six and he seems a threat to score, or make something happen, every time the puck manages to find him. If it was a signing that was questioned at the time, it’s one that now is far from being scrutinized by even the staunchest of Montreal’s opponents. It was a savvy move, a smart acquisition that has paid immediate dividends.
The only trouble now is Montreal has to find a way to re-sign him. That could be tricky.
Over the weekend, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos reported that Radulov isn’t looking for another one-year deal. Realistically, he isn’t even looking for anything that would be considered short term. Rather, the 30-year-old is looking to cash in on the season he’s had and ink something long-term. With that in mind, one would assume Radulov is looking for a contract that gives him some security for several seasons, and even a four-year deal could be on the low end if he’s really looking to hang around the NHL for the foreseeable future.
The difficulty with that, as Kyrpeos pointed out, is that Radulov’s not exactly a prime-aged player anymore. Players are hitting their stride younger and younger while the league as a whole has gone the way of injecting more youth into their lineups. With that in mind, and with Radulov having as much as a decade on some of the league’s premier players, it calls into question whether a 30-year-old, who will be 31 by the time the 2017-18 campaign begins, is worthy of a long-term deal that stretches into the five-, six- or even seven-year range.
But given what Radulov has shown both in terms of ability and production, it’s hard to say he’s not worth the same kind of long-term, high-dollar contract that other free agents have received in the past few years. In fact, just this past off-season, three 30-plus year old players inked long-term, big-money deals, and it’s hard to say any were as safe a gamble as Radulov appears to be going forward. The trio of high-priced veteran deals went to Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson and David Backes, and considering the production out of all three this season, it only seems realistic that Radulov could be set to land himself a deal that’s somewhere in the six-year, $30-plus million range.
Let’s start by looking at Ladd’s deal, which was a mammoth — and some would say ill-advised — seven-year, $38.5-million contract with the New York Islanders. Brought in with the hope that he’d find his fit alongside John Tavares, Ladd, who was 30 at the time of the signing, struggled big time to start the season and he still really hasn’t found his complete offense. The biggest issue to begin with was that Ladd couldn’t seem to catch a break and find the back of the net. Those scoring troubles have since fallen by the wayside and he has 16 goals in 54 games, on pace for 23 markers this season, but only 22 points to his name. If he nets 32 points this season, which is his current pace, he’ll have scored roughly half as much as Radulov.
Likewise struggling to start the season was Eriksson, who was 31 at the time of his signing and went nearly a month into the first season of his six-year, $36-million contract with the Vancouver Canucks without netting a goal. His pace has since increased to a respectable 15-goal, 30-point pace, but Eriksson was brought in to be the 30-goal, 60-point player he was during the 2015-16 season with the Boston Bruins, not the 15- to 20-goal player he was in the three years prior to firing on all cylinders in his final season in Beantown.
Which brings us to Backes, who has been the most consistent of the three after inking a five-year, $30-million deal with the Bruins. It’s harder to measure the full weight of his contributions as he’s as much a defensive contributor as he is an offensive one, but his 12 goals and 26 points have him on pace for a near 40-point year. Backes, who is months away from his 33rd birthday, was brought in to a fixture in the middle-six of the lineup and provide the team the depth they needed to get back into the post-season and Stanley Cup contention.
Considering how Radulov has played compared to the three 30-plus year olds who netted themselves sizeable paydays less than a calendar year ago, one would think he should be in line for a similar cash-in and a similar term. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, and there’s something to be said for each player’s track record. Some GMs might look at a player’s history, and in the cases of Ladd, Eriksson and Backes, all three have proven year over year they can contribute. But overlooking Radulov’s impeccable play in the KHL would be a mistake, and it’s already evident that same talent level has translated to the NHL.
The Canadiens project to have more than $23 million to spend come the end of the season with Radulov, Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu the three most important deals that will need to be renewed for the 2017-18 campaign. That’s more than enough money to get the job done with a bit of scratch left over to add elsewhere, so finding a short-term fit shouldn’t be a gargantuan concern. Long-term viability needs to be taken into account, yes, but the Canadiens’ window is open and keeping Radulov around only stands to increase their odds of chasing a championship.
It would seem a near certainty, then, that Radulov is in line to earn something that’s at the very least comparable to the deals of the aforementioned trio, and it seems increasingly likely that he’s set to earn closer to the high end — $6 million per year — than he is the low end. And given that he’s already earning $5.75 million per season, it’s likely going to take a long-term deal in the six- or seven-year range in order for his cap hit to drop by any significant margin.
It’s not going to be cheap to keep Radulov around long-term, but if his first campaign has been any indication, he could very much be worth the price.
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