San Jose not the typical southern hockey market

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SanJose.jpgSince I grew up learning and loving hockey in Dallas, I am someone
who firmly believes that hockey is a sport that can work anywhere. It
doesn’t matter if it’s in Michigan or Mississippi, if the team is
successful and marketed right the fans will come and these issues facing
“hockey in the south” are forgotten.

With the possibility
looming over the past year or so that the Phoenix Coyotes might move
back to Canada, the argument that hockey doesn’t belong in the south
rose up once more. For most, it seems as if it’s just an issue that
hockey is a sport played on ice, it originated in the north on ponds and
the fact that there are two teams in Florida is sacrilege. That these
teams struggle with revenue and success on the ice is even more
frustrating.

Yet there are a few teams that have proved that if
there is some actual winning involved, and an effort to promote the
sport locally, then there will be success in the region and among the
fans. The Dallas Stars, until Tom Hicks’ financial misdealings derailed
them, were one of the top revenue-producing teams in the NHL and were
one of the most successful teams of the 2000s. In the regular season, at
least. While marching to the Stanley Cup in 1999, the town became crazy
with hockey fever and while the team doesn’t have the exact same
success today the sport of hockey is doing extremely well in local
rinks.

The San Jose Sharks are enjoying a similar story. As the
Sharks move deeper into the playoffs, a spot they haven’t reached since
2004, the rest of the NHL is finally getting to see just how crazed the
fans are. The Shark Tank is one of the toughest places to win at for a
road team, yet you rarely hear how the Sharks have a great fan base. You
hear about the Flyers and Canadiens fans, but rarely about the Sharks. Todd
McLellan is ready for the stigma that San Jose is a black hole for
hockey to be erased:

“Perhaps the most telling
thing for me was when we acquired Dany
Heatley and some of the pundits out there said he can go to California
and just hide,” said head coach Todd McClellan. “That’s not what it’s
like in San Jose, by any means. You can’t hide here when you play for
the Sharks.

“It’s a passionate hockey community and I don’t know
how I get that
across to the hockey world. You can’t walk down the street, you can’t go
for dinner (without being recognized). They know who you are and they
expect big things from you.

Perhaps the fact that the Sharks have developed a bit of a reputation
for choking in the playoffs has contributed to how the team and the
fans are dismissed nationally.

If the Sharks are successful
against the Blackhawks and find a way to get to the Stanley Cup finals,
that is most likely going to change. More and more national audiences
(and writers) will be exposed to just how passionate this town is about
the team.

Clutter-bucks: Isles sign energy guy to five-year, $17.5 million extension

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders scores his second goal of the game at 9:53 of the third period against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.

Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.

This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.

This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.

This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.

Bettman: Salary cap could stay the same for next season

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.

“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”

The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.

The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.

A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.

Related: Trades galore? McPhee expecting ‘a massive player redistribution before the expansion draft’

A few ‘bad decisions’ have been costing Lundqvist

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 6-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.

That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?

“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”

Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.

But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.

Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.

Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts

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Jets send talented rookie Connor to AHL

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.

On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.

He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.

The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.