Is it time for the NHL to consider expansion?

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Thumbnail image for garybettman2.jpgWith the glut of available players in free agency there’s a definitive issue at hand for the NHL and their players. While we’re sure that a lot of folks would like to hang the blame on Ilya Kovalchuk for seemingly bogging down the market for weeks with his free agency, that’s just not how it worked in reality. The truth of the matter is that a lot of teams that would traditionally spend on free agents were pushed to or are well over the cap this summer while many other teams are operating on an internal budget.

The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle has kept a running tally of who has signed and who is available this off-season both unrestricted and restricted and some of the names still left out there are noticeable and still useful players. Many of these players either have over-estimated their worth and won’t compromise on salary or they’ve found that the market has dried up completely thanks to teams spending on cheaper players or opting to promote from within. If that sounds familiar it’s because it sounds an awful lot like how life is in the real world for job seekers. In the NHL world, it stinks to lose veteran players, especially good ones but there’s one way out there to help make sure some players can still have the NHL to call home:

Expansion

I know what you’re saying, it’s crazy and the game already has too much going on with it as it is and adding more teams to what seems like a crowded NHL landscape would be madness. Yeah, that’s all true without a doubt. But is the talent level enough right now to be able to sustain two more NHL franchises? Taking a look around at the players sitting in the free agent pool and the small handful of talent that has departed to play in Europe just this off-season, it may be time for the NHL to take a hard look at the possibility of maximizing their opportunity to grow the sport just a little more and not be worse for the wear.

Look at the guys that have departed for Europe this off-season: Evgeni Nabokov, Denis Grebeshkov, Maxim Afinogenov, Brian Pothier, and potentially Vesa Toskala. All five guys are guys that ideally would have jobs in the NHL and all four guys that found the job market dry up for them.

How about the unrestricted free agents? Just to list off a few of the notable guys: Antti Niemi, Jose Theodore, Brendan Morrison, Paul Kariya, Marek Svatos, Slava Kozlov, Owen Nolan, Paul Mara, Fredrik Modin, Willie Mitchell, Bill Guerin. The list is loaded with guys still very capable of playing at an NHL level and many of these guys might not have NHL jobs this year. While many could be headed to Europe, others might end up either retiring early or signing AHL deals.

If there were two more NHL teams offering up 23 roster sports out there,  the competition for free agents might actually be out there and while it’s likely that the AHL talent pool would be a bit thinner than normal, there’s certainly a few guys languishing about in the ECHL that could be better served in the AHL.

When the NHL expanded in the 1990s it’s very possible it was a mistake to do so in that it was a cash grab for NHL owners who wanted the money. At the time, the NHL wasn’t pulling elite talent from Europe as much as it is now, Americans weren’t producing as much elite talent as they are now and the NHL relied heavily upon guys that may not have had a job in the NHL right now with their skill sets. Going back to the early 90s, however, those guys were just good enough to make it. Nowadays, that’s not the case at all.

Elite talent is continuing to come over from Europe (Mats Zuccarello-Aasen of Norway with the New York Rangers for example), Americans are producing elite talent at a dizzying pace, and while the KHL as well as the Swedish, German and Finnish elite leagues make for excellent options for Europeans and North Americans alike, the NHL is still the king of the mountain in professional hockey. The NHL is where the big money and the big notoriety comes in.

The owners would welcome expansion because it means all the current owners add two more governors and two more exorbitant expansion fees to collect money from. It also means adding two new (or renewed) television markets in which to spread the word about the game. The players love expansion because it means more jobs in the NHL and more members to have join the NHLPA. In a time when both sides find it very hard to agree on anything at all, expansion is the one thing both sides could agree on in a big way.

Whether it happens sooner than later or at all is up for debate (and believe me, this is already debated) remains to be seen if ever at all. If we’re ever to see movement on this possibility, it’s likely we could hear about it during the labor talks coming in 2012. There are people with interest in owning an NHL franchise, they’d just rather have a brand new one. Jerry Bruckheimer and the True North group in Winnipeg come to mind immediately. The possibilities are there to do it, whether the league and the players want to go that way is the ultimate question.

Sens avoid arbitration with Dzingel

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The Ottawa Senators have narrowly avoided arbitration with Ryan Dzingel.

Per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Dzingel has signed a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1.8 million.

Dzingel’s hearing was scheduled for today. Last season, the 25-year-old forward had 14 goals and 18 assists in 81 games.

Earlier this week, the Sens also avoided arbitration with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, though that case didn’t go down to the wire like Dzingel’s did.

Pageau and Dzingel were the only Sens with arbitration hearings scheduled.

Related: Sens want to avoid arbitration with Dzingel

 

Palat feels ‘pretty good’ about the Lightning’s chances of bouncing back next season

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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman accomplished quite a bit this offseason.

Not only did he acquire Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, but he also managed to lose Jason Garrison‘s contract before re-signing Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. They also signed Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi in free agency.

Even though fitting everyone under the cap couldn’t have been easy, Yzerman managed to get it done, and it has at least some of his players excited about the prospect of next season.

“I feel pretty good about the team,” Palat, who signed a five-year, $26.5 million contract extension last week, told the Tampa Bay Times. “I like all the new guys. They’re in the league for a while. Great veteran guys, experienced guys. That’s what you need to have on your team if you want to win a Cup.”

Going into last season, many people pegged Tampa Bay as one of the teams that would compete for the East Division crown. Not only did they not win the East, they didn’t even qualify for the playoffs. A lot of that had to do with injuries, but there’s no denying that the 2016-17 season was disappointing for the Bolts.

Despite not playing hockey in the spring last season, there seems to be a good amount of optimism surrounding the team’s chances of making a run this year (a healthy Steven Stamkos would help in a big way).

Sure, keeping guys on the ice and off medical tables would increase the odds of the team having a bounce back season, but there’s more to it than that. Outside of a handful of players (mainly Nikita Kucherov), the Lightning didn’t get consistent efforts from a lot of their key players that were healthy.

“It was an experience for us last year because we came from two good (playoff) runs and we thought we were going to make the playoffs just like that, and it didn’t happen,” added Palat. “In the NHL we have to play good from the beginning of the season, and we have to be good all season long.”

PHT Morning Skate: 3 coaches that are on the hot seat going into 2017-18

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–The Hockey News continues their “2020 Vision” series with the Boston Bruins. Thanks to a number of good drafts over the last few years, Boston’s future looks pretty good. They have a number of quality defensemen in their system, which should help get them back into the postseason sooner than later. (The Hockey News)

–It was five years ago this week that Shea Weber signed that huge offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Puck Daddy Blog looks at the fallout from that signing five years later. If Nashville doesn’t match the offer, there’s probably no P.K. Subban in Smashville, maybe Peter Laviolette keeps his job in Philadelphia, and maybe the Flyers don’t miss the playoffs as often. (Puck Daddy)

–TSN’s Scott Cullen breaks down NHL goalies in his latest “Statistically Speaking” article. The way he ranks them is by finding out what their expected goals against will be minus the goals they actually give up. No surprise, Carey Price finds himself at the top of the list (minimum 50 games played). Matt Murray, Philipp Grubauer and Andrew Hammond also find themselves in Cullen’s top 10. (TSN.ca)

–Every year, there’s at least a few coaches who get fired during the season. Last season, names like Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant and Michel Therrien found themselves on the unemployment line. It’ll be interesting to see who gets their walking papers in 2017-18. The Score believes that Winnipeg’s Paul Marice is one of three coaches that will go into next season on the hot seat. (The Score)

–Ryan Poehling was Montreal’s first round pick in the 2017 draft, and he couldn’t have been more excited to land there. The St. Cloud State product was in awe as soon as he stepped foot in Montreal for the first time. The fact that he’s playing in such a passionate hockey city isn’t bad either. “(The fans) all just go crazy and I haven’t even played here, so it’s special. I just got drafted by them and they’re just crazy about me, so I think that’s pretty cool, how I haven’t even proven anything and they still love me.” (NHL.com)

Dominic Moore hosted the sixth annual Smashfest, which is a ping-pong tournament where fans and NHLers come together for all the bragging rights. For the third time in the tournament’s existence, Ducks forward Patrick Eaves came away the winner:

Columnist warns Blackhawks fans: DeBrincat may not make the jump

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It’s easy to see why Chicago Blackhawks fans are excited about Alex DeBrincat.

The undersized forward already seemed like a potential steal when the Blackhawks drafted him in the second round (39th overall) back in 2016, as he was coming off consecutive 100-point seasons in the OHL. DeBrincat topped that in 2016-17, scoring more than a goal per game (65 in 63) and finishing with a ridiculous 127 points.

Honestly, that last paragraph might leave some Blackhawks fans twitching with excitement.

MORE: DeBrincat was the one to watch at prospects camp

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers relays an important message on Thursday, though: tap the brakes.

Beyond the questions of the 19-year-old being ready for the NHL, Myers reasonably wonders if Chicago can fit him into its salary structure.

Looking at the Blackhawks’ listing at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that Myers has a point. There are 14 forwards under contract, and as Myers notes, only Nick Schmaltz can be sent to the AHL without needing to clear waivers.

The Athletic’s Scott Powers notes that few 19-year-olds have made much of a dent on recent Blackhawks rosters beyond Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Nick Leddy. As great as Joel Quenneville can be at integrating younger players into Chicago’s mix, history states that DeBrincat indeed faces an uphill climb.

Then again, for a smaller forward whose numbers sometimes get disregarded or downplayed because of his stature, DeBrincat’s probably used to overcoming odds. If nothing else, the Blackhawks seem willing to go the extra mile if it gives them a better chance to compete.

Even so, Blackhawks fans would probably be wise not to pencil him into the 2017-18 lineup just yet.