Alex Ovechkin

With Washington resting Alex Ovechkin, should other top teams offer stars breaks too?

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Although this year was the exception, the Indianapolis Colts typically created annual debates when they would rest starters once their playoff spot was confirmed. For many sports writers, there would be a basic reaction if the Colts faltered. They would blame the accumulated rust for the loss rather than the more likely (but less stimulating) explanation that the Colts just lost to a better team.

You would think that an 82-game season would create more instances in which NHL teams give their best players unofficial “bye weeks,” but that isn’t often the case. Of course, the reasoning is usually simple: the gap between playoff teams and playoff hopefuls is often quite small.

Yet after a few years of pushing the pedal to the metal all season long and then possibly being unable to find another gear once the playoffs began, the Washington Capitals have taken an interestingly measured approach this season. While they clearly are facing some growing pains as they transition from a run-and-gun offense to a more balanced approach, there’s also a sense that the team is learning how to save its best for last.

As you may already know, Alex Ovechkin will miss about a week with an undisclosed injury. When asked what exactly is bothering him, Ovechkin had an amusing response: “Guess.” He didn’t provide any more information other than that the mystery ailment has been troubling him for months.

Well, here’s my guess, then: maybe the Capitals are just being smart by allowing their biggest star to get a rare break.

It’s true that Bruce Boudreau allowed certain Washington players to grab a mini-rest last season, but that was just for a game or two at the very end. Getting a more extensive break could be a subtle boost for Ovechkin, a player who tends to go 100 mph in every game. The fact that he could then shake off whatever imaginary rust he builds up by playing a handful of other contests before the playoffs makes the idea seem that much brighter.

It also makes me wonder: why aren’t other contenders following their lead?

The Vancouver Canucks are showing great moxie in beating desperate teams in games they don’t need to win, but with Manny Malhotra gone for the rest of the season and playoffs, shouldn’t they start to rest the Sedins, Ryan Kesler and other players who will deal with greater burdens? The Philadelphia Flyers are already playing without Chris Pronger, but with the Atlantic Division more or less wrapped up, maybe they should give Mike Richards and other forwards a little siesta? A health-oriented approach might be especially wise for the Detroit Red Wings, being that they have an ample Central Division lead and next to no chance of passing the Canucks for the top seed after losing to them in regulation tonight.

Yes, home ice advantage is important, but going into the playoffs as close to full-strength as possible might be just as vital.

This is not to say that every high-end player should receive a 7-10 mini-vacation, but with a lengthy playoff grind ahead, every little bit of rest could be huge – even if the benefits might not be obvious to the naked eye.

Update: Coyotes sign Connor Murphy to six-year extension

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 18:  Connor Murphy #5 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Washington Capitals at Gila River Arena on November 18, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. The Capitals defeated the Coyotes 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Coyotes GM John Chayka is putting the finishing touches on a productive off-season. Chayka was able to acquire Alex Goligoski, re-sign Shane Doan, sign Jamie McGinn, he improved his position in the draft by acquiring Pavel Datsyuk and also signed former King Luke Schenn.

Now, it sounds like he’s close to locking up another piece of the puzzle. Connor Murphy‘s agent, Brian Bartlett, believes that his client will have a new deal with the Coyotes by the end of the week, according to Arizona Sports 98.7. 

UPDATE: The Coyotes announced that they’ve re-signed Murphy to a new six-year contract.

“We are extremely pleased to sign Connor to a long-term contract,” said Chayka, in a team release. “At only 23, Connor has established himself as a very good NHL defenseman. He’s a great skater, a fierce competitor and he has an excellent work ethic. We look forward to him taking the next step and having him on our blue line for many years to come.”

Financial details of the new agreement have yet to be disclosed.

Murphy is coming off his entry-level deal. He scored six goals and 17 points in 78 games with Arizona last season. The 23-year-old was the Coyotes’ first round pick, 20th overall, back in 2011.

The Coyotes now have two restricted free agents to sign before the start of the season, as defenseman Michael Stone and forward Tobias Rieder also need new deals.

Stone and the Coyotes are scheduled to go to arbitration on Aug. 4, while negotiations between the club and Tobias Rieder don’t seem to be going very well.

Marchand might be ‘obnoxious,’ but he helped convince Backes to sign in Boston

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Brad Marchand is one of those players that you hate to play against, but you love him if he’s on your team. That much is fairly obvious.

But last month, Marchand (as well as teammate Patrice Bergeron) proved to be effective recruiters for at least one free agent. David Backes admitted that the phone calls he received from the two veterans definitely helped him settle on the idea of joining the Bruins.

“Talking to [Marchand] a little bit during the interview process before July 1, I hung up the phone and kind of had to take a deep breath and say, ‘Is that the little disturber, pain-in-the-butt? He’s actually a pretty good guy,” joked Backes, per the Bruins’ website.

In an exclusive interview with CSN’s Joe Haggerty, Backes reiterated that both Bergeron and Marchand are a “pain-in-the-butt” to play against, but he quickly added (with a smirk) that Marchand is more ‘obnoxious’ (click the video at the top of the page for the full interview).

So what exactly did Marchand and Bergeron say to Backes during the phone calls?

“Those guys are the best teammates when you get them on your team,” Backes said of Marchand and Bergeron. “When they talk about sharing critical ice, and hard ice, and hard minutes with a couple of lines, to me that’s what you need in this league.”

Backes has always been known for his physical style of play, but at 32-years-old he may not be able to do all the dirty work for much longer. It sounds like both Marchand and Bergeron convinced Backes that the heavy lifting will be a team-effort, as opposed to a one-man or one-line thing.

Of course, the five-year, $30 million contract the Bruins gave Backes was also an effective recruiting tool.

Flames say there’s still ‘no real update’ on contract talks with RFA forwards Monahan, Gaudreau

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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NHL training camps open in September and although most teams have done the bulk of their off-season tweaking, there’s still at least one team that has some serious work to do.

The Calgary Flames are still working on signing forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to contract extensions. Both players are currently restricted free agents.

“No real update there,” said general manager Brad Treliving, per the Calgary Herald.  “We’ll continue to work away at it.”

The Flames have just under $15 million in cap space remaining, according to General Fanager. There’s a good chance both RFA forwards will take a deep bite into those remaining dollars.

Monahan already said he’d be willing to take less money to get a deal done, but that doesn’t mean he’ll come cheap. The 21-year-old scored 58 goals and 125 points in 162 games over the last two seasons.

As for Gaudreau, he’ll cost a pretty penny as well. The 22-year-old is coming off a season in which he scored 30 goals and 78 points in 79 games.

Here’s an excerpt from the Herald regarding these two players:

With 11 weeks until the regular season begins, here is what we know:

• Both players are restricted free agents and received qualifying offers from the Flames earlier this month. Talks are ongoing.

• Both are expected to receive whopping raises.

• Both are seeking long-term contracts, expressing that they’d like to play together for the foreseeable future.

• Both could be getting paid in the neighbourhood of between $6-million and $7.5-million for between six and eight years (if you use the com parables of Vladimir Tarasenko, Filip Forsberg, Seth Jones, Aleksander Barkov, and Nathan MacKinnon).

Thankfully for Calgary, they’ve done a decent job of managing their roster and the cap. Gaudreau and Monahan are the only two players on the roster that still need new contracts. The rest of the team is locked up for at least one more year.

Edmonton will have a captain by opening night, says McLellan

Todd McLellan
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After going without a captain last season, the Oilers will have someone wearing the “C” in 2016-17.

“Will we have a captain? Yeah, we will,” head coach Todd McLellan said on Wednesday, per the Oilers’ website. “We will have a captain.”

The last player to serve as captain in Edmonton was Andrew Ference, who inherited the position from Shawn Horcoff in ’13 and held it for two seasons.

Last year, the veteran blueliner appeared in just six games, and underwent season-ending hip surgery. He was in no position to serve in the club’s leadership group and, ergo, the Oilers opted to play without a captain.

So… who will be next to wear the “C?”

Most are thinking about Connor McDavid. Though he’s not publicly campaigning for the role, the 19-year-old did say it would “be one of the greatest honors. ” Though he missed significant time to injury last year, McDavid still enthralled Oilers fans with a rookie campaign that saw him rack up 48 points in 45 games, finishing as a Calder Trophy finalist.

Of course, there will be others in the mix.

Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Matt Hendricks have all served as alternates in Edmonton, and Hendricks captained the U.S. at this year’s world championships. There’s definitely some leadership to choose from, and it’s worth noting Eberle is one of the most vested veterans in Edmonton, having appeared in 425 games over the last six seasons.