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Brad Richards to N.Y. Rangers trade rumor mill heats up

When you look at the situation the Dallas Stars find themselves in with Brad Richards, it’s a pretty fruitful scenario for the creation of rumors – valid or random.

For one thing, the high-scoring (91 points last season, 30 in 25 games this year) Richards is a tantalizing tease for any deep-pocketed team in need of a catalyst at the center position. The free agent-to-be is in the last season of a deal that registers a $7.8 million cap hit, a huge number that will be far more digestible as each week passes. When you combine his skill, pending free agency and the Stars’ shaky ownership situation, any number of armchair general managers (and real-life ones) can be excused for cooking up scenarios that enrich their teams by way of prospect/draft pick + salary dump-type deals.

(Side note: The Stars’ disturbing attendance woes give credibility to the rumors as well, being that the team cannot seem to draw sellouts even with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in town. Why can’t a team on what is now a six game winning streak and with a 10-3-1 home record attract the locals?)

Perhaps it makes perfect sense, then, that the New York Rangers seem to be the first team tearing a ticket at the Richards’ deli counter today. Here is what ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun wrote about the Rangers’ interest in Richards, justified partially by the fact that general managers will gather at the Board of Governors meetings taking place early next week.

I was told Saturday the New York Rangers’ interest in Brad Richards (set to be an unrestricted free agent July 1) is serious enough that they’re willing to pony up assets before the Feb. 28 trade deadline to make sure he doesn’t go elsewhere should the Dallas Stars decide to put him on the market in order to get value before he leaves. This despite the fact the Rangers could get him July 1 without giving up any assets.

Obviously, the carrot here for Richards, who has a no-movement clause, is his relationship with Rangers coach John Tortorella. The two won a Cup together in 2004 when Torts was behind the bench for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I would hope that the Stars would be able to acquire at least one genuine asset for Richards, at least from a public relations standpoint. After all, a fan base already fractured (maybe by the dual loss of former franchise faces Mike Modano and Marty Turco?) would have another reason to focus only on the Dallas Mavericks if the Stars dealt Richards while the team was still atop the Pacific Division.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post writes that $4.125 million in dead salary cap space in the form of healthy scratches Todd White and Matt Gilroy represents an issue if the Rangers hope to clear space for a Richards trade.

Dallas would prefer to sign Richards, in at $7.8 million, to a contract extension, but the absence of an owner would seem to make that impossible before July. As such, even as the Stars contend in the Western Conference, GM Joe Nieuwendyk probably will have to reach out to clubs that Richards, who holds a no-trade clause, would approve for a move.

The Rangers assuredly would be on that list. But the math and the possible lack of a match — understand that Sather will not send valued young assets to Dallas for a player who all but certainly will be there for the taking on July 1 — might mitigate against such a deal.

The league’s Board of Governors convenes tomorrow for the first day of meetings in Florida. It’s likely that Sather, whose hunt for a lefty defenseman has become less urgent with the steady development and improvement of the Steve Eminger-Michael Sauer third pair, will initiate a chat with Nieuwendyk.

The fact, though, is that the Rangers not only do not have the space now for Richards, it will be a task for Sather to create it before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.

Considering the sneaky salary cap movements of many GMs including Glen Sather’s stashing of Wade Redden’s $6.5 million annual cap hit in the minors, I am reluctant to believe that Sather couldn’t just dump more salaries to the AHL in favor of young bodies. The question is whether or not the Rangers can entice the Stars to blow up that great Richards-James Neal-Loui Eriksson line for the sake of their money situation.

Personally, I think the Stars should look at the Texas Rangers as a guiding light in a tough storm of a 2010-11 season. Their situation looked dire, too, but their team put together a historic season and pushed their franchise value to new heights.

Of course, DFW residents need to notice how well the Stars are playing for any of their wins to matter, though.

Alex Ovechkin tweets about tying the knot with Nastya Shubskaya

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via Alex Ovechkin's Twitter page
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Alex Ovechkin shared the news via his official Twitter feed that he married Nastya Shubskaya.

His message includes a caption that translates to “This is happiness,” according to NHL.com.

Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks indicated that the two got married during a small, private ceremony, so it might have actually happened a week or so ago.

Here’s the Ovechkin tweet from Sunday:

This continues a run of big news for Capitals players, with a life-changing event for Ovechkin’s partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom as well:

There were some fun jokes on Twitter about the happy news, with this one possibly taking the cake:

This summer figures to be a busy one from a hockey standpoint for Ovie, as he’s been part of various activities and will represent Russia at the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

In case you’re wondering, Ovechkin will soon turn 31.

Martin Jones is still pretty ‘new’ to this

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 06:  Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks stands in goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 6, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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You’d have to be an awfully harsh critic not to be impressed with what Martin Jones did last season.

He “didn’t flinch” under the pressure of a run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer described his efforts as some of the best championship round work of “all-time.”

His signing really made the Sharks look smart. With a strong .919 career save percentage in the regular season and a fantastic .923 playoff save percentage, the 26-year-old has succeeded more or less whenever called upon.

That brings us to the interesting part, though: there’s not a lot of tape, so to speak, on Jones as an NHL goalie.

Small sample

The 2015-16 season was just his third of NHL action, and he’s now at just 99 regular season appearances. That fantastic run of 24 playoff games makes up a significant chunk of his overall experience at the top level.

Jones has excelled when tested, but if you have any concern with him, it’s just that he’s relatively inexperienced at carrying that No. 1 workload.

He started in 65 games during the 2015-16 season, towering over his work as a Kings backup (15 appearances in 2014-15, 19 in 2013-14).

On the bright side, the Sharks have additional evidence that he’s not just a flash in the pan.

Strong numbers at each level

Looking at his AHL stats and even going as far back as his WHL days, his numbers have almost always been good to downright impressive.

It all continues the pattern of Jones looking like the real deal, but next season presents the latest test for the promising goalie.

So far, he’s passed all of them with flying colors.

What will Brent Burns’ new contract look like?

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 29:  Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at SAP Center on February 29, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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This is part of Sharks day at PHT…

There’s only one Brent Burns, that much is clear. Both on and off the ice, there’s no one like him.

So, what do you pay a guy that’s always imitated, never duplicated?

That’s the dilemma the San Jose Sharks will be faced with in the coming weeks/months.

If you were impressed with Bruns’ 17 goals and 60 points in 2014-15, then his 27 goals and 75 points in 2015-16 was out of this world.

Over the last three seasons, not many forwards have produced as much as Burns, let alone defensemen.

Since being acquired by San Jose in 2011, Burns has hit double digit goals in all but one year (he scored nine in 30 games in 2012-13).

“You know how we feel about Brent. Phenomenal year,” GM Doug Wilson said back in June. “When we acquired him it was a big piece to acquire. There’s no doubt he’s important to us. We want him. I think he loves being here. Those conversations will take place shortly.”

Time to talk numbers…

It sounds like Burns enjoy playing in San Jose, so him taking a bit of a discount is possible. But if we look at the closest comparable…

Dustin Byfuglien, who is 31-years-old like Burns, signed a five-year $38 million contract with the Jets this winter. That comes out to an AAV of $7.6 million.

Both are big, physically imposing and have put up some great numbers in the last few years.

Over the last three seasons, Byfuglien has scored 19, 18 and 20 goals for a total of 57. Burns has scored 27, 17 and 22 for a total of 66.

That’s not a huge difference over three years, but Byfuglien wasn’t coming off a 27-goal season and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final when he signed his contract.

Although we haven’t really heard much regarding Burns’ contract demands, it wouldn’t be shocking for the final cap number to be in the 8 or 9 million range.

Poll: Will the Sharks make it back to the Stanley Cup Final?

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 25:  Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly presents the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl to Joe Pavelski #8 and the San Jose Sharks after their 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game Six of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 25, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Not many people expected San Jose to be in the Stanley Cup Final in 2015-16, but with expectations at an all-time low, they did it.

San Jose has put together some talented teams and before last season, they weren’t able to get over the hump. But now that they’ve gotten over the hump, expectations are back up.

How realistic are these expectations though?

On paper, the Sharks are still loaded. They didn’t lose much this off-season and managed to add speedster Mikkel Boedker in free agency.

Still, when you’re dealing with a number of veterans, you never know when their production will start to dip.

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski are all over 30. Marleau and Thornton are 36 and 37-years-old and they’re entering the final year of their contracts.

The Stanley Cup hangover is real. Although the Sharks didn’t win it, those veterans went four rounds and played in some grueling games along the way. Will they be in tip-top shape come October?

On a more positive note, those veterans are surrounded by some good young players. Logan Couture has developed into a go-to guy, Tomas Hertl proved to be a difference maker at times last year, Joonas Donskoi scored some big goals in the playoffs and prospects like Mirco Mueller, Nikolay Goldobin and Timo Meier are on their way.

The team also has some remarkable depth on defense, as Burns is joined by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin, Justin Braun and a few other key contributors.

Between the pipes, Martin Jones‘ first season as a starting goaltender went pretty well.

“A special group,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said after losing in the Stanley Cup Final, per the team’s website . “But only one team can win. That doesn’t take anything away from what those guys accomplished. I don’t think anyone should ever question the leadership or the character or the will of the group of men in there. I think it’s been misplaced for a decade.

“I would hope they answered some questions. Let’s be honest. Not many people had us making the playoffs. Not many people had us beating [the Los Angeles Kings in the first round]. On an on. I thought a lot of questions were answered by that group.”

It won’t be easy for them to make it back to the final. They’ll have some stiff competition in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Dallas, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and any other team that might surprise.

So, can this “special group” do it all over again next season?

Time to vote!