Christening Edmonton's new building in style, McDavid reminded the hockey world that the "old" phenom isn't going to get pushed aside by anyone
While Auston Matthews was setting the hockey world on fire, Connor McDavid was getting back to business in Edmonton. The new Oilers captain helmed his squad to a 7-4 dismantling of archrival Calgary and the highlight of the game came on a penalty shot. Check out the encyclopedia of moves employed by McDavid on poor Flames goalie Brian Elliott:
That's just filthy. The call on defenseman Dennis Wideman that led to the free breakaway may have been a little dubious, but I'm never going to argue with a penalty shot – the call isn't made enough, in my opinion.
One of the more fascinating subplots of Team North America's World Cup tournament was the fact McDavid could not put the puck in the back of the net. Sure, he was playing excellent hockey and had some dazzling set-ups that led to goals by his linemates, but the kid was snakebitten on his own. The fact he came out of the gates with two goals (the game-winner and insurance marker, just to add a couple cherries) and an assist is great news for the ultra-competitive 19-year-old. Most importantly, however, is that Edmonton got the win and did so in the Oilers' first game at their brand-new arena – and McDavid's first official game as captain. New employee Wayne Gretzky was in the house, as was another former captain and legend, Mark Messier. No doubt they would agree the 'C' is in good hands with young McDavid.
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.
The Wild have a potential Vezina winner, coach of the year and a workhorse top defenseman, but come the post-season, opponent’s should most fear Minnesota’s depth.
Devan Dubnyk is well on his way to winning the Vezina Trophy and given the Wild have matched their win total from the past season in 25 fewer games, Bruce Boudreau is going to be in the conversation for the Jack Adams Award. He could very well take home the hardware by the time the season ends, too. There’s also going to be talk about Mikko Koivu for the Selke Trophy and Ryan Suter, as always, is going to be part of Norris Trophy discussions.
But with all the solo performances that have made this season an impressive one for the Wild, there’s more to this Minnesota club that the standout performances of single players. Rather, the best thing the Wild have going is their incredible depth, and as the playoffs inch nearer and Minnesota gears up for what looks like it could be a deep run, the way the Wild have been able to win should be striking fear into the hearts of opponents.
As of Friday, the Wild currently have the fourth-highest scoring offense in the league, but that’s a bit of a head scratcher given not a single player has hit the 20-goal plateau. Compare Minnesota’s lineup to that of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals — the top three offenses in the league, respectively — and you don’t exactly walk away thinking the Wild belong in the conversation. The Penguins boast Crosby and Malkin, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller are leading the way for the Rangers and the Capitals are always lethal with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. On paper, one would likely take all three offenses ahead of Minnesota’s, especially given the Wild’s current top scorer, Mikael Granlund, had maxed out at 44 points before this season.
It’s been that kind of year in Minnesota, however, with just about everyone on the team stepping up under Boudreau. Matter of fact, no team boasts a more spread out offense than the Wild, who have 10 different players to have scored at least 10 goals. That list includes Koivu, Granlund, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Chris Stewart, Eric Staal, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville and Jason Zucker. The Capitals high-powered offense is the only other group in the league that has as many 10-goal scorers, but the Wild have two more players, Suter and Jared Spurgeon, sitting at eight goals and on pace to hit double digits this season.
One of the things that’s evident is that Bourdeau has found a way to get the most out of players who are right in that prime stage of their development. There’s no better example than Granlund, whose 16-goal, 51-point performance thus far has already seen him set dual career highs. He’s not the only one on pace to reach new heights, however. Coyle’s 44 points are a new career-best, while Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matthew Dumba, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker are all on their way to setting new bests.
And while Granlund is the best example of a guy flourishing under Boudreau, no player is quite as indicative of the way the Wild’s depth has been clicking like Zucker. The 2015-16 season was a frustrating one for Zucker and Wild fans. After coming off a 20-goal campaign in 2014-15, the belief was Minnesota had a goal-scoring star in the making. All the facets of his game were present, but none more than his ability to absolutely burn up the ice when he hit his top speed. And while he’s seen his ice time take a dip under Boudreau — he’s playing roughly a shift or two less per game — Zucker is having the season of his life while playing bottom-six minutes.
Through 57 games, he has 16 goals and 38 points, but only a single point of his has come on the power play and not a single point of his has been scored shorthanded. Instead, he’s been a stud for the Wild at 5-on-5, so much so that he’s in the same league as Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. That sounds bizarre, but it’s true.
Zucker’s managed 14 goals and 37 points while playing five-a-side this season, and the other 500-plus minute players who rank in the top five in scoring are McDavid, Crosby, Brent Burns and Mark Scheifele. That’s a select bunch as all four rank in the top six in league scoring. More impressive yet is that Crosby is the only one of those four others to have a higher points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 than Zucker’s 2.86. Of course, no one is about to say Zucker’s in the same overall league as Crosby or McDavid, but when it comes to even strength play this season, the Wild winger is sure producing like it.
The brilliant thing about a player like Zucker playing that way is that he’s exactly the type of weapon a team that has designs on going deep into the post-season needs. Every post-season run has its unsung heroes, and they’re generally players who score a clutch overtime goal or get moved up the lineup in hopes of generating some offense. With the way Zucker has played, chances are he could be exactly that type of player for Minnesota in the playoffs, and if it’s not him, Niederreiter, Haula, Pominville and Stewart have all been proving they can give that added punch.
The post-season can be as much about rolling four lines and getting some mismatches along the way as it is about high-end skill. Given that’s the case, there isn’t a team more well equipped to make an opponent’s bottom six and depth defensemen pay quite as much as the Wild. So, while Dubnyk, Koivu and Suter could be in line for end-of-year award recognition, it’s the depth, led by players such as Zucker, that stands to carry Minnesota towards the real prize they’re chasing.
There's no "generational talent" at the top of the draft this season, but there is a nice battle for the top spot between Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.
It’s time for draft rankings, people, and it’s getting very interesting out there.
The 2017 draft class has already been pilloried quite a bit this season, but I think we just have to appreciate it for what it is: a chance for teams to get better. We’ve been spoiled by “generational” talents such as Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews lately, but that can’t happen every year. Instead, we have a nice little battle shaping up at the top between Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. And don’t be surprised to see even more movement as time goes on.
I have Timothy Liljegren third, but I’m kinda conservative when it comes to moving top players down. Recognize that he may slide as other blueliners make their cases, or if it appears we’ll have another run on centers at the top this summer in Chicago. Whatever happens, here’s the first round as I see it right now.
1. Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon (WHL): Back from injury and from all appearances, not suffering. Patrick has the size, skill and all-around game to be an instant NHLer
2. Nico Hischier, C, Halifax (QMJHL): The high-end skills and smarts are so tantalizing. Hischier is certainly giving Patrick a run for his money and surpassing the Wheat King is not out of the question.
3. Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (SHL): Liljegren seems to be back on track after illness and a loan to Timra. His skating and offensive instincts are excellent and he’s getting some nice responsibility with Rogle.
4. Gabe Vilardi, C, Windsor (OHL): Skating is the knock, but scouts are already downplaying it by hyping up his other skills. Vilardi is big, smart and talented and really, the speed isn’t that bad right now.
5. Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga (OHL): A weaponized winger with size, speed and a big-time shot, Tippett doesn’t have the versatility of Vilardi, but the physical tools are beguiling.
6. Klim Kostin, RW, MVD (Rus.): Surgery ended his nightmare season, but Kostin is enough of a known quantity thanks to earlier international duty. He’s a big, powerful kid with loads of talent.
7. Casey Mittelstadt, C, Eden Prairie (Minn. HS): The Minnesota commit wanted one more shot at a state title, so Mittelstadt is currently laying waste to high schoolers with Eden Prairie. Tons of skill and he put up numbers in the USHL, too.
8. Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City (WHL): Starting off with his nearly 6-foot-6 frame, there’s a lot to like about Rasmussen. Naturally his reach is good, but his hands are also pretty sweet and he can play with an edge.
9. Eeli Tolvanen, LW, Sioux City (USHL): A wicked shot in a smaller package. The Boston College recruit is a pure goal-scorer and draws penalties with his skill. Mixed opinions out there on his feistiness.
10. Miro Heiskainen, D, HIFK (Fin.): Smooth-skating defensemen are in and Heiskanen may even challenge Liljegren for draft stock. Some scouts thought he was Finland’s best blueliner at the world juniors.
The Maple Leafs suddenly have as much as $15 million to work with at the trade deadline which they could use to make a big deal; Avalanche stars could stay put.
The rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs are among this season's most-improved clubs. After finishing at the bottom of the standings last season, the Leafs are jockeying for a post-season berth in the Eastern Conference.
Despite this improvement, the Leafs still have some roster weaknesses to address. Their most-pressing need is a skilled puck-moving defenseman. With the playoffs in sight, perhaps the Leafs could address that need by the trade deadline.
That possibility increased when Sportsnet's Chris Johnston last week reported the Leafs quietly placed injured players Nathan Horton, Joffrey Lupul and Stephane Robidas on long-term injured reserve. The moves give the Leafs flexibility in the form of an additional $15 million in salary-cap space.
With that kind of space, the Leafs have room to pursue a big-name player at the trade deadline. They've been linked in recent weeks to St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Despite the Blues' recent resurgence, TSN's Darren Dreger claims the 28-year-old Shattenkirk remains in play.
The asking price for Shattenkirk is thought to be at least a first-round pick and a top prospect. While the Leafs have the depth to meet that return, they could be unwilling to do so unless Shattenkirk, who's eligible in July for unrestricted free agency, is willing to sign a long-term extension.
If Shattenkirk proves too costly for the Leafs, more affordable options include Buffalo Sabres defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and New Jersey Devils rearguard Kyle Quincey. If they want additional depth at forward, Johnston suggests Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Brian Boyle, Dallas Stars right winger Patrick Sharp or Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal.
DUCHENE, LANDESKOG COULD STAY PUT IN COLORADO AFTER DEADLINE
The Colorado Avalanche reportedly continue to entertain offers for Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog. While the notion of one or both moving before the March 1 trade deadline provides a much-needed spark to the trade-rumor mill, they could still be with the Avalanche when the deadline passes.
It's not as though there isn't any interest in the pair. For several weeks, the 26-year-old Duchene was linked to the Montreal Canadiens. Reports out of Boston earlier this month suggested the Bruins could make a push for the 24-year-old Landeskog. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports there's talk the Senators kicked tires on both players.
As always, the issue is the asking price. It's believed the Avs seek a good young defenseman, a first-round pick and a top prospect for either guy.
In a recent mailbag segment, CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty said the Bruins shouldn't give up a promising young blueliner such as Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy for Landeskog. TSN's Bob McKenzie reports Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has no intention of sacrificing his future. His colleague Pierre LeBrun believes the Sens interest in Duchene is pretty much dead unless the asking price is reduced.
LeBrun suggests the Carolina Hurricanes possess considerable depth in young blueliners and need a scoring center. However, he's not convinced Hurricanes GM Ron Francis will pony up for Duchene. LeBrun suggests Francis try to tempt the Toronto Maple Leafs into parting with William Nylander.
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic apparently isn't under pressure to move Duchene or Landeskog before the deadline. It's expected he'll wait for the off-season, when general managers usually have more salary-cap room and a willingness to deal.
FLAMES COULD LOOK AT GOALIES AGAIN
Prior to the 2016 NHL draft, the Calgary Flames created a stir when it was reported they contacted the Pittsburgh Penguins about goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The discussion apparently ended when the Pens asked for the Flames first-round pick (sixth overall). Calgary used that pick to select left winger Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames eventually acquired Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues, but he's failed to play up to expectations as a starting goaltender. With Chad Johnson also struggling of late, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reports the Flames could revisit their interest in the 32-year-old Fleury, who's lost his starter's job to rookie Matt Murray.
Earlier this month, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he's open to dealing Fleury but prefers retaining him as insurance for the playoffs. Unless Fleury, who carries a modified no-trade clause, asks to be dealt, he could finish the season in Pittsburgh.
The Flames also nearly had a deal in place last June to acquire Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning. If they can't pry Fleury out of Pittsburgh, maybe they can once again look into the 30-year-old Bishop's trade status.
Bishop's an unrestricted free agent this summer and isn't expected to be re-signed. If the Lightning put Bishop on the block, they could seek a young defenseman in return. It's doubtful, however, the Flames meet that price unless they get assurances that Bishop will re-sign with them.
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.).