Doug Creighton, Peter McCullough

Winnipeg mayor doubts the Coyotes will move; Thrashers might relocate there instead

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Many people in the hockey world wondered if the Coyotes played their final game in Phoenix when the Detroit Red Wings completed their first round sweep. In fact, the very premise prompted a steady stream of cruel jokes on Twitter.

While relocation is still a legitimate possibility amid the troubling Coyotes sale situation, it doesn’t take an expert to notice that the NHL and City of Glendale are doing the best they can to avoid relocation. Their best efforts might not overcome the threat of a lawsuit by the Goldwater Institute, but the bottom line is that more money might be lost if the Coyotes leave than if they stay.

(That’s a sad sentence, but sometimes sporting reality is pretty depressing.)

There’s at least one rather significant party who thinks that the Coyotes will stay put. That would be Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz, who believes that the hockey-hungry city should look for a different team to bring the NHL back to the ‘Peg. Here are his comments via the Winnipeg Sun.

“Do I believe the Coyotes are coming to Winnipeg? My answer would be no,” Katz said. “I believe the Coyotes will stay in Phoenix. I happen to know some of the commitments that were made when they went there, and there were commitments that, if they were not fulfilled, there could easily be a lawsuit.”

If you believe Katz, then the Coyotes sale faces a lose-lose scenario: a possible lawsuit whether they stay or go. Both the NHL and Goldwater Institute’s people seemed confused by the claims Katz made about the possibility of a lawsuit if the Coyotes relocate, though.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said he didn’t know what commitments Katz might be talking about.

“I can’t say that I know what he is referring to,” Daly said via e-mail Wednesday.

Nick Dranias, constitutional policy director for the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, a taxpayer watchdog group trying to block the Coyotes’ sale to would-be buyer Matthew Hulsizer, was equally baffled by Katz’s claim.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Dranias said. “If he’s talking about obligations or agreements that were reached before the Hulsizer deal, that would have come out during bankruptcy.”

Even if Katz was incorrect in his claims that a lawsuit would be a possibility, his comments underscore the notion that the Atlanta Thrashers might be a strong Plan B for Winnipeg. Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press claims that the Atlanta Spirit ownership group is desperate to sell the Thrashers after failing to do so with a local group for years. (Regardless of former MLB pitcher Tom Glavine’s best efforts, it seems.)

Despite some reasonable possible other cities for relocation (Kansas City’s cushy arena deal comes to mind), Lawless writes that it would be difficult for the Thrashers to relocate to any other market than Winnipeg with such a short window between the sale and the start of the 2011-12 season in October.

In other words, all signs point to Winnipeg being the only relocation option for both the Thrashers and Coyotes. So the Atlanta Spirit must wait and see if the Coyotes remain in Arizona before they can make their move.

Keep in mind all of this talk is based on speculation from unnamed sources, so there might be a few factors that are a bit based on conjecture rather than facts. Either way, the fate of two troubled franchises – not to mention the puck-based future for one former NHL city – hangs in the balance over the next weeks/months, so we’ll keep you informed as this messy picture begins to come into focus.

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.