Steven Stamkos

Steven Stamkos, Lightning should lean toward Crosby’s contract rather than Ovechkin’s deal

As we discussed in the last post, the Tampa Bay Lightning face a rather unusual (and potentially calamitous) negotiation process with young star Steven Stamkos. Although they would retain the right to match any offer a team throws his way, it would still be a huge challenge if he becomes a restricted free agent on July 1.

While star forwards obviously have seen their entry-level deals expire in the post-lockout era, the big guns like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin signed deals about a season before their deals would have been up. That’s what makes Steven Stamkos’ situation (and to some extent, Drew Doughty’s as well) so interesting: teams might actually get a chance to send imposing offer sheets his way, ratcheting up the intrigue on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s end. In a way, Stamkos and the Lightning could set a new precedent since their situation is pretty rare.

That being said, Stamkos’ agent and the Lightning will likely look at other star contracts as benchmarks for the budding young star’s second deal. Since Stamkos is rapidly encroaching on their territory already – and each player sports conveniently different contracts – it might make sense to compare his potential deal to the ones enjoyed by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

First, let’s look at each deal.

Crosby’s contract: five years, $43.5 million ($8.7 million annual salary cap hit); contract expires after the 2012-13 season.

Ovechkin’s contract: 13 years, $124 million ($9.54 million annual salary cap hit); contract expires after the 2020-21 season.

From a pure salary cap standpoint, the different between the two deals isn’t that large. That being said, there are some major pros and cons that I believe would make a Crosby-type deal more beneficial to both the Lightning and Stamkos.

Reduced risk for the Lightning

Naturally, imagining 10 years of Stamkos flirting with the 50-goal mark probably seems like a thing of beauty for the Bolts. That being said, injuries are an obvious part of life in the NHL and every once in a while a player just isn’t the same.

It seems like an unsettling point to make, but the Pittsburgh Penguins must feel a little less queasy about Crosby’s cloudy concussion conundrum because he’s only locked up for two more seasons. If Ovechkin was in that situation instead, the Washington Capitals would be facing the frightening possibility of nearly 10 years of uncertainty this summer. Signing players is always a gamble, but longer deals drastically heighten the stakes.

A big unrestricted free agent payday if Stamkos gets even better

While the Lightning reduce their long-term risk, Stamkos can improve his long-term reward. If the league’s salary cap continues its upward climb as Stamkos approaches the unrestricted age of 27, the Lightning star could see an even bigger bump whenever he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He would have less “prime” seasons if he took a 10 or 12-year deal, so his third contract might suffer if he followed Ovechkin’s lead.

A question of motivation

Let me ask you something: if you received a $100 million (or more) contract for a job, would you feel the need to improve? Perhaps, but many people might think that their previous skills – and thus, a few bad habits – opened that door to obscene riches. Why change what made you become a multi-millionaire?

The risk would still be there with a shorter deal, but a 10-year deal almost begs for a few stagnant seasons. Both Ovechkin and Stamkos don’t seem like the types to rest on their laurels, but it’s only natural to lose a bit of steam without that big, dangling carrot of another monster deal.

Splitting the difference?

It’s true that the Bolts might be a bit uncomfortable about him becoming an unrestricted free agent, but that could be remedied slightly if the contract ate up his first unrestricted season or two. If a Crosby-inspired five or six-year deal wouldn’t work, they could always split the difference between the two stars and go for a seven or eight-year pact.

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Ultimately, the Lightning just need to keep Stamkos in the fold. The only true disaster would be losing him outright. Still, if you ask me, both sides would be better off if they followed the footsteps of Crosby and Malkin-type deals rather than agreeing to Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk-type terms.

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

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For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.

Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.

But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.

Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.

When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.

Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.

The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.