Brandon Prust is no stranger to having to play his way on to a team
By: Dhiren Mahiban
Sep 20, 2016
The Maple Leafs invited Brandon Prust to training camp on a professional tryout and NHL veteran is hoping to follow Brad Boyes’ footsteps in turning a PTO into a contract.
Brandon Prust is no stranger to tryouts. As a teenager, Prust used a camp invite to crack the London Knights roster ahead of the 2002-03 OHL season. He eventually helped the Knights capture the franchise’s first Memorial Cup in 2005.
Now, at 32, the veteran of 486 NHL games is relying on the experience of his successful OHL tryout to help him with his latest camp invitation.
The Toronto Maple Leafs invited Prust to training camp on a professional tryout, and the London native, who had a season to forget last year, is hoping to follow Brad Boyes’ footsteps in turning a PTO into a contract.
“That was kind of before I had any idea,” Prust said of his inexperience going to Knights camp. “I was just kind of going out – I had an invite to camp. Went out, did my thing and made the team. You take your experiences, especially being an older guy. You take all your experiences [from] throughout your career. It’s kind of what makes you a little wiser as you get older.”
Last summer, heading into the final year of his four-year, $10 million contract, Prust was dealt from the Montreal Canadiens to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Zack Kassian. In his first game against the Canadiens, on Oct. 27, Prust suffered a left ankle injury, which derailed his whole season. He initially missed 11 games due to the injury.
Seeing his teammates go 3-5-3 in his absence Prust says he was over aggressive in his rehab attempting to return.
“I had never had an ankle injury before so I definitely pushed myself,” Prust said. “I wanted to get back. The team was struggling a little bit. You want to get back and help. Pushed it a little bit. Obviously looking back, I might’ve waited a little longer.”
Prust appeared in 35 games for the Canucks last season prior to being placed on waivers in February. The 6-foot, 195-pound forward appeared in nine games with the AHL’s Utica Comets before mutually agreeing with the Canucks to part ways. The decision to move on was key for Prust, who knew he was heading into unrestricted free agency. Being healthy enough to have a proper summer of training was crucial in order for Prust to show interested clubs he could still play at the NHL level.
“Obviously that was important for me, just didn’t feel confident and comfortable with injury last year,” he said. “That was the main objective: getting [the ankle] straightened out and figured out so I can focus.”
Prust finished his ninth season with just seven points and 59 penalty minutes – his lowest totals since his rookie season. Asked to assess his year in the Canucks organization, Prust was blunt.
“Well obviously it wasn’t very good, right? It was one of my worst years as an NHLer,” he said. “Got to bounce back from it.”
Prust had a few camp offers to mull over this summer, but his decision became clear when the Maple Leafs came calling. Growing up two hours outside of Toronto, Prust was admittedly a Leafs fan as a child.
“I always watched the Leafs growing up and always dreamed of playing for the Leafs and putting on the blue and white jersey,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I kind of chose Toronto. I knew my heart would be in it and it would definitely bring that passion out in me.”
With Leafs camp set to open this week, and his ankle feeling “back to 100 per cent”, Prust has been busy working with skating coach Barb Underhill to regain, and refine, his stride.
“It’s tough because you’ve had habits for so long and had a certain way,” Prust said. “You definitely have to really focus. You’re not a sponge where you can naturally do it. You really have to practice, and really have to mentally think.
“Since I’ve been with her, I even told her, ‘I’m laying in bed at night thinking of my stride and changing my stride and what I got to do’. She’s like, ‘I didn’t want to do that to you’, but that’s just natural, that’s how you are. I think just being at my age, it’s kind of what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to drill it into your brain.”
Prust admitted his game could’ve benefitted from working with Underhill two or three years ago.
“It’s just little tweaks and little things that, if you can make it natural, if you can practice enough, you can change some things,” he said. “Obviously not going to turn myself into the fastest guy in the league, but little things to get me to the puck quicker, little things that can make me move better laterally – they’re going to help me in the long run.”
Though Prust would like to see his childhood dream come to fruition, the numbers are stacked against him heading into camp. Toronto signed rugged forward Matt Martin to a four-year, $10 million contract on July 1. Rich Clune, who split last season between the Leafs and Marlies, is still with the organization on an AHL contract. On top of that, the Leafs have just two contracts remaining before they reach the max of 50.
“I know if I go out and play my game, and show them that I can still move, I know that I’ll get a fair shot,” Prust said. “I know I can crack the lineup if I prove it. I know what I’ve got to do.”
Lightning in ‘constant contact’ with Kucherov’s representatives as training camp nears
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 23, 2016
Steve Yzerman doesn’t see Kucherov’s contract situation becoming a distraction as the season draws closer, and the Lightning GM is hoping the two sides come to terms by the time Kucherov is set to lace up after World Cup action.
Training camp for the Tampa Bay Lightning is about to get underway, but there’s uncertainty about whether or not the pre-season skates will include Nikita Kucherov, a restricted free agent who remains without a contract with less than three weeks remaining until the start of the season.
Asked Thursday about the status of Kucherov’s contract, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman sounded hopeful about the state of contract talks. According to NHL.com, Yzerman said the Lightning and Kucherov’s camp remain in “constant contact,” and the hope is that a contract will be in the offing.
"Obviously we want him here," Yzerman said, according to NHL.com. "He's a tremendous player, he's a popular player on the team. Being young he is still one of the leaders on our team so we want to get him in here as soon as possible. It takes time. Does it become a distraction? I don't anticipate that. Again our goal is to have him signed and in here as soon as possible.”
The goal, Yzerman said, is to have Kucherov inked by the time he’s done at the World Cup with Team Russia. Though it’s unlikely Kucherov signs on the dotted line before Saturday’s semi-final game — the 23-year-old almost certainly has his focus solely on the matchup against Canada — there will be time post-tournament when Kucherov could be inked by the Lightning and then join the team in camp ahead of the start of the pre-season.
The most difficult thing for the Lightning, and what has likely remained the sticking point throughout contract talks, is the money for Kucherov. He gets the minutes, the role and the opportunity to be a star in Tampa Bay, but he no doubt wants to be paid as such, and rightfully so.
Over the past two seasons, Kucherov has 59 goals and 131 points in 159 games, and only Steven Stamkos, with 79 goals and 136 points, has found the score sheet more often over the same span. Stamkos inked an eight-year, $68-million deal in June to remain with the Lightning, and Kucherov could be looking to earn similar money to the $8.5 million Stamkos earns annually.
However, the Lightning probably don’t see Kucherov’s salary climbing much higher than that of Vladimir Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60-million deal — $7.5 million annually — in July 2015 to remain with the St. Louis Blues. Tarasenko has scored 77 goals and 147 points over the past two seasons, and before signing his deal has posted 58 goals and 116 points in 141 games, which is a near-identical points per game pace as Kucherov.
The issue for the Lightning right now is that, according to CapFriendly, they have only $6.27 million in available salary cap space, and their cap issues go beyond this coming season. Come next off-season, the Lightning will be staring down big money extensions for RFAs Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. That’s an issue because Tampa Bay currently has less than $18 million in salary cap space to work with come next off-season, and the cap space will be significantly lessened once Kucherov is locked up.
Signing Kucherov is crucial for Yzerman and the Lightning, though, and they appear willing to continue to work hard to get a deal done that gets the goal-scoring winger back in the lineup this coming campaign.
Rumor Roundup: Goaltending decisions loom for Penguins, Red Wings and Lightning
By: Lyle Richardson
Sep 17, 2016
The Penguins and Red Wings have capable goaltending duos, but the younger goaltenders are ready to take over for their veteran counterparts. Meanwhile, the Lightning have to decide how to proceed with free agent-to-be Ben Bishop.
Prior to the NHL Draft in late-June, Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was the subject of considerable trade speculation. Having lost the starter's job to Matt Murray in the playoffs, reports claimed the long-time Penguins netminder could hit the trade block. At one point, the 31-year-old was linked to the Calgary Flames.
The Flames, however, opted to acquire the more-affordable Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues at the draft. Over the course of the summer, Fleury's name largely faded from the rumor mill. However, Murray's rise to prominence and the fact the Penguins can only protect one goalie in next June's expansion draft will ensure Fleury's future remains a topic of interest in this season's trade market.
TSN's Bob McKenzie doesn't expect Penguins management will attempt to move Fleury before the start of the season. He feels they'll want more time, perhaps even up to the trade deadline (Feb. 28) to see how their goaltending shakes out.
Players carrying no-movement clauses must be protected in the expansion draft, unless they're willing to waive it. The Penguins are unlikely to leave the promising young Murray available, as he would be certain to be scooped up by the Las Vegas franchise. The preferable option is trading Fleury to a team of his choosing.
The Detroit Red Wings could also face a choice between two goalies in 2016-17. Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek will once again be their goalie tandem. The Wings have nearly $9.3 million invested in the duo, who struggled with inconsistency in 2015-16.
Howard, 32, was the subject of trade conjecture this summer. Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports the Wings explored trading the veteran netminder, but his contract (three years remaining) and cap hit ($5.29-million AAV) proved difficult to move.
St. James expects the Wings will stick with their current goaltenders this season and perhaps leave Howard exposed in next June's expansion draft. If Howard shows improvement, it could also improve their efforts to trade him.
Sidelined forward Ryan Callahan ($5.8 million) will start the season on long-term injured reserve, providing Yzerman with some short-term cap relief. However, the Bolts GM be forced to clear some payroll before Callahan returns in late-November.
Bishop carries a $5.9-million cap hit for this season. He's eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency. With promising Andrei Vasilevskiy signed through 2019-20 and the high cost of re-signing the 29-year-old Bishop, he seems the likely trade candidate.
However, Yzerman has also suggested he could keep his goalie tandem intact for the coming season, as it could improve the Lightning's Stanley Cup chances. Smith also mentioned center Valtteri Filppula ($5-million cap hit, no-movement clause) and defenseman Jason Garrison ($4.6 million, no-trade clause) as other trade options.
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.
With the return of Carey Price in goal, and an improving forward group led by Alex Galchenyuk and the addition of Alexander Radulov, the Canadiens should make it back to the playoffs.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the Montreal Canadiens.
THN's Prediction: 3rd in Atlantic
Stanley Cup odds: 22-1
Key additions: Shea Weber, D; Andrew Shaw, LW; Alexander Radulov, RW; Al Montoya, G; Mikhail Sergachev, D
Key departures: P.K. Subban, D; Lars Eller, C; Tom Gilbert, D; Victor Bartley, D; Ben Scrivens, G
-Is Alex Galchenyuk a No. 1 center? Sweet lord, yes. It took the Habs long enough to figure out, but they got there eventually. Galchenyuk was one of the few bright spots in last year’s cratering, and a combination of skill and vision led the youngster to his first 30-goal NHL campaign. Galchenyuk still needs to improve on his faceoffs, but with a win percentage of 47.9 percent last season, he’s not that far off the mark. Should coach Michel Therrien attempt to claw back Galchenyuk’s development, the Habs would regress to being a team with three second-line centers, and that’s just not going to cut it.
-Will the Habs regret the Subban-Weber trade? Maybe not immediately, but eventually they will. Weber is older and appears to be declining in effectiveness. He’ll still be a No. 1 defenseman short term, but there will be diminishing returns from there. Plus, trading the charismatic Subban did nothing to change the image of the Canadiens as a cold, personality-killing franchise. In the meantime, enjoy Weber’s bomb point shots and surly corner work, Habs fans.
-What kind of impact can Alexander Radulov have? Based on his reputation, Radulov is probably a little underhyped right now. The mystifying veteran says he has matured since his curfew antics got him benched in Nashville a few years ago, and his numbers in the KHL haven’t tailed off one bit. At 30, he’s no youngster, but he knows how to put the puck in the net and how to operate on the NHL’s smaller ice surface, so there won’t be much of an adjustment period – assuming he stays in line discipline-wise.
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.
The Montreal Canadiens looked like the best team in hockey last October. Then Carey Price went down and suddenly they weren’t. They were a train-wreck, and it proved every doubter of the previous season right; the team was nothing without Price.
What was interesting though was that their underlying numbers were actually decent despite the tumble. The team got incredibly awful goaltending that consistently held them back, but the team in front wasn’t playing that bad, they just weren’t getting the results.
This year they’ve got Price back and that alone adds about seven points back to this team putting them right back into the playoff mix. They’ve still got two stars up front, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, a lethal duo that rivals almost any in the league.
The latter may not seem like a star-calibre player, but he’s been quietly putting up elite numbers for the Habs the last few seasons. He’s bred from the same cloth as super-pest Brad Marchand, who finally got noticed last season for the actual talent he has. Expect Gallagher to have a similar breakout this year into the public conscious.
The team made two big additions up front that should provide a spark to the rest of the forward group. Andrew Shaw is a moderate upgrade over Lars Eller and the addition of Alexander Radulov provides a big boost to the top six (if his talent translates well to the NHL and meshes with the team that is). Montreal actually has a decent ensemble of talent at forward, especially if Daniel Carr and Sven Andrighetto can get a bigger role.
The back-end on the other hand is mostly unremarkable and the big trade didn’t help. P.K. Subban is an all-world D-man in his prime while Shea Weber is a former all-world D-man no longer in his prime. He’s still good, but he’s lost a step over the past few seasons and isn’t the same player he once was. His influence on shot attempts continues to decrease and while he’s usually been good at getting the most out of those attempts, even his goals percentage is trending down.
The trade was a large misstep, especially with the age discrepancies, but Montreal definitely still has the talent to compete right now. They’ve got a very good shot at making it back to the playoffs this season, although if Price gets injured again or Weber declines any further that obviously changes.