Should the Florida Panthers send Erik Gudbranson to the minors or keep him in NHL?

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Thumbnail image for erikgudbransonbloodied.jpgWhen it comes to high-profile draft picks such as Taylor Hall, deciding whether or not to send him to the minors is more complex than choosing between development and preserving entry-level contract years vs. immediate team needs. When it comes to someone like the Florida Panthers’ No. 3 pick Erik Gudbranson, it might be a little simpler, but it’s still a tough call.

The big 18-year-old defenseman’s training camp and preseason is drawing rave reviews from the occasionally salty coach of the Florida Panthers, Peter DeBoer. Yet if you ask me, the Panthers are a couple years away from being an interesting contender in the Eastern Conference/Southeast Division (more on that later, actually) and should let Gudbranson mature against players his age a little longer. The Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Filakov thinks that the team might keep him at the NHL level thanks to his impressive play this summer, though.

Gudbranson has played in every exhibition game and will play this weekend. He has displayed toughness and solid defense with crisp passing as well as scoring on his first shot in a Panthers’ uniform.

There seems to be two jobs among four young defenseman – Gudbranson, Keaton Ellerby, Nathan Paetsch and Joe Callahan. Even with Ellerby ailing (shoulder) I’m betting on him and Gudbranson.

[snip]

The Panthers would have to sign Gudbranson by Wednesday before he’d be able to play the first nine games of the season like Kulikov did last year.

If the Panthers feel he’s ready then he stays. If not, they sent him back to juniors without losing a year towards free agency. Kulikov, who was also 18 last year, earned the right to stay and is now considered one of the most promising young defenseman in the league.

There’s no “experience” like playing at the highest level of competition and some young defensemen have adapted to the pro-level game with very little trouble. Drew Doughty, in particular, barely missed a beat as a rookie and sophomore. Still, Doughty has more of a “skill-based” game while Gudbranson is more of a “banger” (as Filakov points out in that article).

Most sub-Doughty defensemen (read: almost all of them) need time to get used to the increased speed and physicality of the pro game. Perhaps the Panthers would be wise to give Gudbranson the Jordan Staal test: the Penguins let the lanky center stay at the pro level beyond the nine game cut-off point and the team lost one of his entry-level years even though he was still quite raw. Staal rewarded them with a 29-goal season and helped them make the playoffs for the first time in the Sidney Crosby Era, though I’ll always wonder if Staal would have benefited from beating up on inferior competition for a year or two.

So, long story short, the Florida Panthers have an important decision to make regarding Gudbranson.

GM Dale Tallon is building something interesting in Sunrise, but I say take a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel approach to team building and send Gudbranson to the minors.

Red Wings re-sign Mrazek to two-year, $8 million deal

Detroit Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek (34) stops a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula (51) in the first period of Game 3 in a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series, Sunday, April 17, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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The Detroit Red Wings didn’t need Petr Mrazek‘s arbitration hearing either.

The day after the Wings avoided the process by locking up defenseman Danny DeKeyser, they agreed on a two-year deal with Mrazek, with a reported cap hit of $4 million.

Mrazek, 24, went 27-16-6 last season with a .921 save percentage. Those numbers compared favorably to Jimmy Howard‘s (14-14-5, .906); however, GM Ken Holland has argued that keeping Howard could be best for Mrazek’s development.

“It could possibly be detrimental if we put Petr in a situation where we’re just going to throw him out and play 70 games and no matter how you play, we’re going to keep putting you out,” said Holland.

Granted, it may be that Howard is simply untradeable. He’s 32 years old, hasn’t put up solid numbers the past three seasons, and has three years remaining on his contract with a cap hit of just under $5.3 million.

If Howard remains, the Wings will have just under $9.3 million in cap space allocated to their goaltenders next season, one of the highest totals in the league.

Mrazek, by the way, will still be a restricted free agent when his new contract expires in the summer of 2018.

Tavares ‘would love’ to spend his entire career with Isles

John Tavares
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With new majority owners and now talk of a new arena, the future of the New York Islanders has been a popular topic lately.

Not surprisingly, it’s led to plenty of discussion about the future of captain John Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018.

Ownership has insisted that it won’t get that far, that Tavares will be re-signed. The Isles will have “no financial constraints,” owner Jon Ledecky promised.

But what about Tavares? What does he think?

“I think I’ve always showed my commitment, my appreciation and my desire to play on Long Island,” the 25-year-old told Sportsnet 590 radio on Tuesday, per NHL.com. “I would love for that to continue for the long haul. I think you look at some of the greatest players in the game have been able to spend their entire career somewhere. I hope I’m in that same position.”

As for the speculation he could sign in Toronto?

“I would not count on that,” he said.

So start the countdown to July 1, 2017. That’s when Tavares can officially start negotiating an extension with the Isles.

Perhaps by then we’ll even know where the team will be playing its future games. Will it be Brooklyn or somewhere else?

Sens re-sign Hoffman to four-year, $20.75 million deal

Mike Hoffman
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Only 18 NHLers have scored more goals than Mike Hoffman has over the last two seasons.

Today, the Ottawa Senators signed the 26-year-old sniper to a four-year contract with a reported cap hit of $5.1875 million.

Hoffman had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4. The breakdown of his new deal, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

His contract done, Hoffman can now focus fully on next season, which he’s excited about.

“New coach coming in, Guy Boucher, I had him in junior when I played in Drummondville of the Quebec League,” Hoffman said recently. “Very good relationship with him, we won a championship together. So definitely looking forward to working with him this year.”

As for Sens GM Pierre Dorion, he’s still got some offseason work to do. Defenseman Cody Cedi is a restricted free agent, and there’s no arbitration date to encourage a settlement in his case. While Dorion is confident that something that will get done with the 22-year-old, what remains to be seen is if it’s a short- or long-term deal.

Hurricanes extend contract of head coach Bill Peters

Bill Peters
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The Carolina Hurricanes may have missed the playoffs in each of Bill Peters’ two seasons behind the bench, but GM Ron Francis is clearly pleased with the job his head coach has done.

Today, the ‘Canes announced that Peters has been signed to a contract extension through the 2018-19 season.

“Bill is a talented, young coach in the National Hockey League,” said Francis in a release. “We are happy that he has made a commitment to the Hurricanes, and that he will be a major part of the team continuing to grow.”

The ‘Canes still won’t be a popular pick to make the playoffs in 2016-17, but with all the young talent that the organization has amassed, Peters will certainly be expected to get them there before his contract expires. (The ‘Canes were actually a pretty solid possession team last season, but were let down by their goaltending and inability to convert scoring chances.)

Carolina last made the playoffs in 2009.

Related: ‘Canes enjoying stronger ticket sales, but ‘fence-sitters’ still need convincing