Head of NHL player safety Brendan Shanahan talks about some of the recent suspension and non-suspensions in the league.
Head of NHL player safety Brendan Shanahan talks about some of the recent suspension and non-suspensions in the league.
Thatcher Demko warming up prior to an AHL game against the Toronto Marlies at Air Canada Centre. The 21-year-old is 7-5-1 with a 2.59 G.A.A. and a .909 save percentage in 14 AHL games this season.
The Canucks 2014 second-round pick is 7-5-1 with a 2.59 G.A.A. and a .909 save percentage in 14 American Hockey League games this season.
Vancouver's goaltending depth could get tested this weekend as the Canucks play back-to-back in Florida on Saturday night and then in Washington on Sunday.
Ryan Miller pulled himself during the third period of Thursday's 5-1 win in Tampa Bay due to what Iain MacIntyre of The Vancouver Sun reported is an ankle injury. With Miller hurting, the Canucks have recalled Thatcher Demko from the American Hockey League's Utica Comets.
Demko will serve as Jacob Markstrom's back-up in Florida. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Boston College product was ranked No. 57 on THN's list of Top 100 prospects 21 and under in November.
The 21-year-old, in his first pro season, started slowly losing his first four starts while allowing 21 goals-against in his first six AHL starts with the Comets, but has since settled down going 5-1-0 in his last six starts with a 1.50 G.A.A. and a .945 save percentage entering Friday's game against the Binghamton Senators.
"Thatcher has been humbled more and more and he’s learning his way in Utica — and that’s what we’re looking for. He’s able to get past the bad and good performances really quickly, and that’s a good sign for No. 1 goalies," Canucks goaltending consultant Rollie Melanson told The Vancouver Sun. “He’s getting more and more quiet in the goal as he gets more experience. Between what we do on the ice and what we do in the video room, he’s really starting to understand where we need to go. He’s going to be a good pro."
It's uncertain whether the Canucks 2014 second-round pick will get into game action over the weekend. Following Sunday's game, Vancouver travels to Carolina to play the Hurricanes on Tuesday before returning home to open a four-game home stand against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.
Cal Clutterbuck and John Tavares
Cal Clutterbuck’s five-year extension won’t bite the Islanders for a couple of seasons, but when it does, it could cost the Islanders more than just money and cap flexibility.
Cal Clutterbuck is on pace to have his highest scoring season as a New York Islander, he’s averaging more ice time than he has in any other year with the club and he was given an alternate captaincy ahead of the campaign.
And even with all that, it’s hard to understand how exactly the Islanders saw fit to have the 29-year-old winger a five-year, $17.5-million extension.
Clutterbuck is undoubtedly one of the best at playing the specific role he plays, which is to say that if you’re looking for a hard-nosed player who’s going to put his body on the line, he’s your guy. Fans love him, teammates assuredly do, too, and he’s exactly the kind of bottom-six player that most GMs around the league would love to have on their team at the right price.
Problem is that it’s really tough to call $3.5 million per season the right price, and that’s exactly what Clutterbuck will be earning come the start of the 2017-18 campaign. That’s roughly the same cap hit as others such as Kyle Turris, Cam Atkinson, Joel Ward and Matt Read will be carrying next season, and that’s only to name a few.
Another worrisome part about the deal is that it’s hard to see how even the biggest fitness freak could maintain their ability to play Clutterbuck’s style into their mid-30s. The wear and tear on Clutterbuck’s body by the time he reaches the back-end of the contract could be substantial. Despite him playing up the lineup right now, he’s better suited to a bottom-six role and definitely will be later in his career. If he loses a step, $3.5 million will be a lot to fork over for a fourth-line winger and it’ll be a deal that’s near impossible to move.
But it goes beyond simply the signing of Clutterbuck, because there has now been a trio of deals handed out by Islanders GM Garth Snow that have been puzzling — and, truthfully, concerning — when it comes to the future of the team.
Ahead of free agency, there was the signing of Casey Cizikas to a five-year, $16.75-million deal. Then came the monster seven-year, $38.5-million contract inked by free agent Andrew Ladd. The Clutterbuck signing is No. 3.
It should be noted that the deals for Clutterbuck, Cizikas and Ladd don’t actually prevent the Islanders from doing all that much in the next two seasons. In fact, as of next season, every single current Islander forward will be locked up to a contract. Come 2018-19, when John Tavares becomes a free agent, the slate is wiped rather clean with the team able to operate with more than $40 million in cap space. Beyond Tavares, the Islanders’ UFAs come 2018-19 will include Josh Bailey, Nikolai Kulemin, Jason Chimera, Mikhail Grabovski and Thomas Hickey.
And $40-plus million can buy you a lot, and certainly it will allow the Islanders to hang on to Tavares, if he chooses to remain with the team. (Not to say he won’t, but a lot can happen between now and July 2018.) All the UFAs, save maybe Bailey and Hickey, will be allowed to head elsewhere, as well. A restricted free agent deal for Brock Nelson could be pricey, but the Islanders should realistically be able to lock him up. As of right now, the Islanders will also be without an NHL goaltender under contract, but there will be stop-gap options available. So, yes, the Islanders should be fine in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
However, things could get dicey after that.
Come 2019-20, the Islanders will watch Travis Hamonic become a UFA, see the end of entry-level deals for Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Joshua Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle and still have more than $12.3 million locked up in Ladd, Cizikas and Clutterbuck. Finding the money to lock up those five players, as well as any others who could be seeking new contracts around that time, will be incredibly difficult.
The cost of those trio of deals goes beyond money and cap space, though, because there’s a serious possibility the Islanders could waste some of the best years of Tavares’ career. If the Islanders can only afford to hang on to the pieces they have without being able to add any veteran or prime-aged players, it gets hard to see how this franchise takes the next step forward, even with Tavares in his prime.
They’ll need a few adds on defense, a few forwards who can contribute and the goaltending situation will need to be figured out. Ilya Sorokin should give Islanders fans hope, but even the best goaltending prospects sometimes don’t pan out in the big league. If the Islanders need to improve in goal when their prospects are hitting their stride, the money spent in the past seven months could very well prevent that from becoming a reality.
It’s big-money, head-scratcher deals like Clutterbuck’s that teams have had to buy their way out of in the past, and it’s scary to think the Islanders could have set themselves up for the same fate three times over. The Islanders' post-season performance was reason for excitement, but now it seems, more than anything, there's cause for concern about what the future could hold.
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Injuries to Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais have the Canadiens in need of help down the middle, but making a move at this point in the season could be tough. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs won’t be alone in keeping an eye on Karri Ramo in the AHL.
The loss of centers Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais to knee injuries is a serious blow to the Montreal Canadiens' scoring depth. With both on the shelf six-to-eight weeks, GM Marc Bergevin could be scrambling to find replacements.
Galchenyuk's absence hurts the most. At the time of his injury, he led the Habs with 23 points in 25 games and was on track for a career-high 70 points. Finding a suitable replacement in the trade market at this point in the season is almost impossible. Still, Bergevin must find some suitable depth down the middle until Galchenyuk and Desharnais return.
TSN's Darren Dreger believes Arizona Coyotes center (and pending free agent) Martin Hanzal would be a good fit. However, he said here's no indication the two sides have discussed a Hanzal deal. He believes the Coyotes' asking price would be a good young prospect.
Boston Bruins forward Ryan Spooner is reportedly available. A versatile forward who can play center or wing, the 23-year-old is struggling offensively after a promising 49-point effort last season. It's unlikely, however, that the Bruins trade him to a hated rival in the same division.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman observes the Winnipeg Jets have a lot of young centers, suggesting Alex Burmistrov as an emergency fix for the Habs. Like Spooner, the 25-year-old Burmistrov can play center or on the wing. He's struggled to establish himself with the Jets and might benefit from a change of scenery. His $1.55-million cap hit, however, could be a tight fit for the Canadiens.
MAPLE LEAFS NOT ONLY TEAM WATCHING RAMO
Speaking of the Toronto Maple Leafs, changes appear to be afoot for their backup goaltending. Earlier this week, Jhonas Enroth was demoted to the AHL's Toronto Marlies after clearing waivers. Antoine Bibeau is Enroth's replacement, but only on a short-term basis.
Unrestricted free agent goalie Karri Ramo signed a professional tryout offer with the Marlies. If he plays well for them, the Leafs could sign him.
Ramo, however, is not the Leafs property yet. He's still free to sign with any NHL club. TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports the Los Angeles Kings are keeping an eye on Ramo, but the Leafs are considered to have the inside track.
HENDRICKS’ TIME UP AS AN OILER
It appears checking-line left wing Matt Hendricks doesn't have a future with the Edmonton Oilers. Having miss the opening month of the season to a lower-body injury, the 35-year-old's been a healthy scratch in recent games. An unrestricted free agent next summer, the Oilers could look at moving him.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes Hendricks might be a good fit with the Minnesota Wild. He said the Wild are seeking fourth-line help and Hendricks is a favourite of Wild coach Bruce Boudreau.
The Wild, however, only have $392K in salary-cap space. Hendricks' annual salary is $1.85 million. Even if the Oilers picked up half of his cap hit, it won't be enough. The Wild would have to move salary elsewhere to make that work.
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.). For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
From big off-season acquisitions struggling to oft-maligned players proving their worth, the NHL has its fair share of players who are hard to figure out.
I'm still confused.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the NHL's five most confusing teams, at least from my perspective. These were the teams that I just couldn't figure out. Were they good? Bad? Somewhere in the middle? I'd spent the season trying to work it out, and come up empty.
As it turned out, I wasn't alone. More than a few readers confessed to being confused by those teams too, not to mention several others. It was like having a support group. A support group of confused hockey fans, all watching the games unfold with their heads tilted like a puppy seeing a toilet flush for the first time.
Well, today I'm going to call another meeting of the confused hockey fan network. But this time, we're not looking at teams. No, today we're going to dive into some specific players that have me perplexed. In most of these cases, I thought I had a handle on things. But now I'm not so sure.
Maybe you can help me out. Or maybe you're just as confused as I am. Either way, I think it will be good for my soul to admit that I just can't figure these guys out.
What I thought I knew: After an up-and-down start to this NHL career, Elliott had settled in to a predictable pattern with the Blues. He'd play well. He'd post strong numbers, sometimes even league-leading ones. And then, just when push came to shove, the Blues would lose faith in him and hand the starter's job to someone else. Maybe it was the backup. Maybe it was a pricey trade acquisition. Maybe it was even a semi-retired legend, in a move we'd all agree to just pretend never happened. But time and time again, the Blues had no faith in Elliott.
And I was convinced that they were wrong. This was the classic case of a team over-thinking things, or maybe letting dressing room politics or a faith in intangibles override basic logic. The numbers didn't lie: Elliott was one of the best goalies in the league. And when the Flames nabbed him at a discount in the offseason, I was sure that they'd found their starter.
Where I'm at now: Sitting around wondering what happened. Which is also where Elliott finds himself most games these days.
Chad Johnson has been a great story, and you can't blame the Flames for riding the hot hand. Elliott got off to a bad start, and when you're a young team that hasn't earned a ton of self-confidence quite yet, you can't let yourself fall too far out of the race. The Flames are being smart here.
But… Elliott is still good, right? Every goalie has the occasional slump, so we can't panic over 13 games. Then again, Elliott's never really done much outside of Ken Hitchcock's goalie factory, and the Blues still didn't believe in him. Did they know something that the rest of us, including the Flames, somehow missed?
What I thought I knew: Remember when Ryan was left off of Team USA in 2014, partly because Brian Burke didn't think he could spell "intense"? What a ridiculous snub that was. Hey guys, 30-goal scorers in their prime don't exactly grow on trees.
Where I'm at now: Has anyone noticed that Bobby Ryan doesn't score 30 goals anymore?
Well, sure, I imagine Senator fans were already in the loop on this one. But it feels like the rest of us have been slow to realize that Ryan just hasn't been the same player in Ottawa that he was in Anaheim. His best year since the 2013 trade was only 23 goals, and that was back in 2013-14. This year, he has just three goals through 21 games.
In hindsight, maybe we should have seen that coming. Ryan was 26 when the trade went down, and in today's NHL, that's already past the peak of many forwards. But the Senators clearly thought they were getting an elite player with some big seasons left in him – remember, we're just two years removed from them handing him a $50-million contract.
Ryan's had to overcome some tough hurdles in his life, including the loss of his mother this summer. It still feels like he could rebound and reclaim his status as a first-line player. But if not, the budget-conscious Senators may be stuck with an ugly-looking contract that they can't really afford.
What I thought I knew: Any Leaf fan who was paying attention was in on this one. Sure, Bozak had put up some decent stats over the years, but he'd done it as Phil Kessel's sidekick, inexplicably getting all the playing time with Toronto's best player and reaping the rewards. And even then, his numbers had been just OK, never topping 50 points in a season and struggling in his own end.
It was a classic case of a superstar propping up an also-ran. And once Kessel was shipped out of town, we'd see the real Tyler Bozak.
Where I'm at now: Hey, it turns out the real Tyler Bozak is pretty good.
Not "first line center" good. Certainly not "team MVP" good, despite some of the sillier hype from the Kessel era. But his production hasn't cratered without his superstar wingman. In fact, it's improved slightly, and he's on pace for the most productive season of his career this year.
Maybe he's benefitting from the Leafs finally having some depth at center. Maybe he's embracing his role as the "dad figure" on one of the league's youngest rosters. Or maybe he was just better than I thought he was all along.
What I thought I knew: He's easily one of the best young offensive defensemen in the league.
Where I'm at now: Pretty much the same place. Which is why what's going on in Dallas right now is so hard to figure out.
Last month, Lindy Ruff made Klingberg a healthy scratch, and everyone went "What?" Then we found out that Klingberg had missed a team meeting, so fair enough — the rules apply to everyone. But then last week he was scratched again, this time for performance reasons.
And sure enough, he hasn't been great this year. He's on pace for the worst offensive totals of his career, and he's getting creamed on possession, where he'd previously been very solid. Sure, maybe nobody would look good in front of that Dallas goaltending. And Ruff is carrying eight defenseman, which makes his decisions tougher. But Klingberg really has looked off this year, and with a 98.5 PDO, this isn't all about bad luck and shaky percentages. Something's wrong.
We're talking about a guy who finished sixth in the Norris voting last year, in just his second NHL season. It looked like the Stars had themselves a poor man's Erik Karlsson in the making. Maybe they still do. But this season has turned a sure thing into a major question mark.
What I thought I knew: No clue. None. He seems like a good guy. Smallish, and without any especially flashy numbers, but he always seemed like a nice underdog story who'd overachieved over the years on a long path towards earning some respect. I usually like those kind of stories.
But over the last few years, Russell has somehow morphed into the poster child for the debate between analytics and old school. And you're not allowed to stake out a middle ground. You have to either think he's the second coming of Scott Stevens, willing his team to victory by sheer force of heart, or you have to think he's hot garbage. Those are your only two options. And you better choose quickly, because as soon as his name get mentioned, everybody is going to start yelling.
Where I'm at now: SO MUCH YELLING!
Honestly, I have no idea. When Russell hit free agency this summer, I thought the big numbers being thrown around were a little ridiculous. So did the league, apparently, since he had to settle for a one-year deal with the Oilers. That seemed like a good fit, and you figured Russell could settle in, put together a decent season, and take another shot at a big UFA payday next year.
No such luck. No, apparently we all have to keep fighting the Great Kris Russell Battle until the end of time. Is he good? Bad? What position does he even play? Nobody remembers.
We have always been at war with Kris Russell. Now pick a side and go yell at somebody about it.
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.