Say What?!? - April 12
Say What?!? - April 12
"Give him something to thrive in and he thrives."
- Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette on Daniel Briere.
"Give him something to thrive in and he thrives."
- Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette on Daniel Briere.
The Flyers should repeat last season's magic, and could do even better if they keep getting great goaltending and a return to form from Jakub Voracek.
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: 4th in Metro, wild-card team
Stanley Cup odds: 28-1
Key additions: Dale Weise, LW; Boyd Gordon, C
Key departures: Evgeny Medvedev, D; Ryan White, RW; R.J. Umberger, LW
-How far can Dave Hakstol take this team? The rookie coach gained traction in the second half of the season and brought out the best in players such as Brayden Schenn while also unleashing the mighty power of rookie Shayne Gostisbehere before that. The Flyers gave Washington an uncomfortable amount of pushback in the first round of the playoffs, and you can expect more of the same this time out as the coach becomes more entrenched.
-Jakub Voracek will be better, right? He has to be. Voracek had a rough 2015-16, with his typical season shooting percentage getting carved almost in half (from nine percent to five percent). Voracek’s struggles manifested most obviously on the power play, where he scored just once after tallying 11 times with the man advantage in 2014-15. A second training camp under Hakstol’s watch will help him get back to his usual scoring ways, plus Voracek will get a running start to the season thanks to his spot with the Czechs at the World Cup of Hockey.
-Who is the starting goalie? The Flyers have that problem right now where there are two options in net – Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. Mason has been the starter for the past three seasons, with results that have bounced between OK and pretty good. Neuvirth has never played more than 48 games in an NHL season and that was back in 2010-11. But he scared the daylights out of the Capitals in the playoffs, surrendering just two goals in three games to push the series to six games after the Flyers started off 0-3. For now, we’ve got a platoon. The best man will win.
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 surprised a lot of people last season with their stunning late season surge into the post-season, and they might do even more damage this season.
A lot of credit should go to GM Ron Hextall who has cleaned up the past regime’s mess admirably and stocked the cupboard with a lot of blue-chip talent. The team has two of the best forwards in the league in Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and getting value out of their remaining prime years is essential. Doing so while also building toward the future creates a delicate balance that Hextall has navigated excellently so far.
One of those future building blocks is stud 'D' prospect Ivan Provorov who is definitely talented enough to make this team, but still might not due to the amount of money ahead of him on the depth chart. If he starts the year in the top six instead of Nick Schultz, this team will be better for it. With the emergence of Shayne Gostisbehere last season, and the solid contributions from Radko Gudas, Mark Streit, and Michael Del Zotto, the Flyers actually have a surprisingly solid, albeit average, defense corps.
Up front the team’s top two lines are quite good, especially that top line of Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds. Voracek had a tough year last season, but there’s no doubt that his shooting percentage should bounce back up to his normal rates. He’s too good to be converting on under two percent of his shots on the powerplay, and 5.2 percent in all situations.
While the top six is decent, the bottom six is a big concern, especially the bottom line. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a nice story representing France for Team Europe at the World Cup, but his on-ice results have been abysmal in the NHL. Along with Boyd Gordon, that line will probably be spending a lot of time trying to get out of the defensive zone.
The Flyers’ biggest strength, and the biggest reason they’ve got a high chance of making the playoffs, is in net. When they first traded for Steve Mason that seemed absurd to even consider, but his career has taken a complete 180 and he’s now legitimately one of the league’s top goalies. And if he falters, Michal Neuvirth ain’t bad either.
A lot of people were surprised when this team made the playoffs last season. Don’t be shocked if they repeat the magic this season.
Up next: Tampa Bay Lightning
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 | Detroit Red Wings | Nashville Predators
If you're looking for the DNA from some of the best hockey players in the world, you might want to consider dropping a few bucks on a crystal puck.
Nothing really says growing the game like charging 65 bucks ($74.45 with applicable taxes) for a few drops of Zamboni water, does it? Just when you thought the folks who are bringing us the World Cash Grab of Hockey™ had run out of ways to make revenues, they go and turn thawed ice shavings into gold.
Now to be fair, nobody’s holding a gun to anybody’s head here. And for your $65, you’re getting a lot more than just the residue from the Team USA-Czech Republic game here. You’re actually getting a crystal replica World Cup of Hockey puck and lovely box (both made in China) from the people at Fanatics Mounted Memories, Inc. The crystal puck has the water sealed inside of it, water picked up from the ice in an actual World Cup game, a process that is evidenced by an authentic numbered seal along with a picture of a bucket of ice and another of the process of the pucks being filled. A Certificate of Authenticity is signed by Don Moffatt, facilities operations supervisor for the NHL.
“This unique collectible contains authentic playing surface from the World Cup of Hockey 2016,” the certificate beams. “The playing surface was acquired by Fanatics directly from the NHL. This crystal puck is officially licensed by the NHL.”
When your trusty correspondent ventured into the main gift shop at the Air Canada Centre for the World Cash Grab of Hockey™, he was informed that the water-filled crystal pucks were actually moving at a pretty good rate. And why wouldn’t they? As one Twitter follower pointed out, the water in those pucks might have the DNA of some of the greatest hockey players on the planet in it. So you spend your $65, break the crystal puck open and pour it onto your son’s Wheaties in the morning and Presto!, instant millionaire NHL hockey player. Sounds like a pretty wise investment.
And if you need a receptacle to pour your water into, well the World Cash Grab of Hockey™ has you covered there, too. For just $15, you can purchase a 3.5-ounce Mason shot jar, a 16-ounce sublimated pint glass for $25 or a coffee mug for $35. (If you need a big rubber finger to stir it, you can get one of those for $35 as well.) You’re going to want to get a stick in that little guy’s hand as soon as possible, so you might as well pick up a World Cash Grab of Hockey™ mini stick for just $12.
There’s really something for everyone, from a spinning key ring for 10 bucks to a replica puck in a glass case for $30. You’ll be able to brave the elements with a $30 scarf and $35 toque. And if you need somewhere to carry those tickets you paid $513 for before they went on the secondary ticket market for a tiny fraction of the cost, you can pick up a ticket lanyard for just $15 more. (By the way, a count late Wednesday afternoon revealed there are still about 20 tickets available for Game 2 and about 125 for Game 3. So all the tickets have basically been sold. The luxury boxes, which have sat empty even for Canada's game, that's another story. Meanwhile, on the secondary ticket market, those $513 tickets for Game 2 are selling for just over $100 now. Which means the ticket speculators are taking a bath here, not the NHL or NHL Players' Association.)
Now that we’re down to the short strokes of the World Cash Grab of Hockey™, it’s probably time to take stock of where all that money is going. The tournament is projected to earn about $100 million in revenues and $60 million in profits, which is split equally between the league and the NHLPA.
If that’s the case, then each team will earn about $1 million each, if the profits don't end up going into the league's general operating budget. So if you spread that out over the four years until the next World Cash Grab of Hockey™, that means each team will average about $250,000 per year, or enough to pay the coach of their minor league team. Doesn’t sound like it’s worth the effort when you put it that way, does it?
The players, well, that’s a different story. This is not your father’s World Cup and the proceeds are going directly to the players, not the pension fund like the up-and-up days when Alan Eagleson was running things. As reported by Bob McKenzie and Rick Westhead of TSN, the players are still unsure how they’re going to divide the pot. You’d have thought they would have figured it out by now. Some players are of the opinion that the players’ share should be distributed equally among the 184 players who participated in the tournament, 170 of whom are NHLers. If that were the case, each player would receive a check for about $163,000. If it were divided equally among the 720 or so players in the NHL, each player would get about $42,000.
So just to recap here: The World Cash Grab of Hockey™ is selling vials of water for $65. The money made from that and all the other revenues will either go back into the league’s operating budget or help a team pay its minor league coach for the next four years. The rest will be going to pad the bank accounts of players, many of whom are already millionaires (or will be) several times over.
Hope it was worth the effort. And remember, we might be missing NHLers in the Olympics for all of this.
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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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.