Kevin Bieksa

Kevin Bieksa signs five-year deal with Vancouver worth $23 million

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What a year it’s been for Kevin Bieksa. Last summer, Bieksa fought off rumors of being traded as he was viewed to be the odd man out on a Canucks team that was dealing with salary cap issues. After this season, one where he was rock solid providing consistent play at both ends of the ice and stayed healthy amidst a team mired in injury problems, he proved himself to be one of Vancouver’s best defenseman.

The Canucks opted to reward Bieksa’s play with a new contract and a long-term commitment. Vancouver signed him up for five more years at a cost of $23 million. The deal works out to a cap hit of $4.6 million over the term of the deal and for Bieksa, it takes him off the market which he was set to join on July 1 as an unrestricted free agent.

While the cap hit is still a bit of a bite, it’s not as much as Bieksa could’ve been set to make as a free agent. With the likes of Detroit and other teams looking to reach the salary floor, Bieksa could’ve cleaned house financially. Instead, he locks in in Vancouver while his teammate, Christian Ehrhoff, will likely head to free agency looking for a new team.

For Bieksa, while his point totals didn’t take a drastic jump, he proved to be one of their most reliable defensive players seeing his plus/minus rating jump to a career high +32. His career total before this season saw him as a -20. Thanks to Vancouver scoring the most goals in the league and the team tightening things up defensively all around, Bieksa’s play helped make that possible. His irritating play in the playoffs and snarly nature helped endear him to Canucks fans and made opponents lose their minds.

Vancouver locking up Bieksa also helps them square around on how they’re going to shape up their defense next season. They also have Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Alexander Edler, and Aaron Rome committed to contracts next season. Ballard was a healthy scratch through most of the playoffs and was even benched in favor of youngster Chris Tanev in the Stanley Cup finals. One would think he’s likely on his way out of town as well while GM Mike Gillis will attempt to work out deals on the free agent market as well as with in-house free agents Sami Salo and Andrew Alberts.

Vancouver’s summer of free agency will be curious to watch, but for now, the guy they once wanted to move out of town in Bieksa is their main man on the blue line for the next five years. It’s a start for a team that’s itching to correct their failure in the Stanley Cup finals.

Kessel left off Team USA for World Cup

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on before a face off in the first period against the New Jersey Devils on March 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Phil Kessel‘s terrific playoff wasn’t enough to win over USA Hockey.

On Friday, the Americans completed their 23-man roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and passed on Kessel in favor of four other forwards: David Backes, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky.

Defensemen Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson and Matt Niskanen also made the team.

Kessel, who has nine goals and 18 points through 19 postseason contests, was one of the most noteworthy snubs. Others included another stellar playoff performer — Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson — Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri and the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo.

It’s worth mentioning that Ryan and Okposo were two of the most notable “snubs” from the American team that finished fourth in Sochi.

On defense, Carolina’s Justin Faulk (who played in Sochi), St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Boston’s Torey Krug and the Islanders’ Nick Leddy were all passed over.

The full 23-man roster:

G Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
G Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

D Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche *
D Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets *
D Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
D Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals *
D Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

F Justin Abdelkader, Detroit Red Wings
F David Backes, St. Louis Blues *
F Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning *
F Brandon Dubinsky, Columbus Blue Jackets *
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks
F T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals
F Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
F Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
F Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
F Derek Stepan, New York Rangers
F James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs *
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

* named to roster today

It’s probably worth pointing out that two of the seven players named to the roster today — Dubinsky and Jack Johnson — play for Team USA head coach John Tortorella in Columbus.

A third, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan, was the captain in New York when Tortorella coached the Rangers.

Here’s your TV schedule for the Stanley Cup Final on NBC Sports

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 01:  The Stanley Cup trophy sits on a table during a ceremony before the Chicago Blackhawks tsake on the Washington Capitals at the United Center on October 1, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Capitals 6-4.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) NBC Sports is switching up its broadcast schedule for the Stanley Cup Final.

In recent years, Games 1 and 2 had been on NBC, with Games 3 and 4 on cable partner NBCSN. If necessary, the final three games returned to NBC.

This season, Monday’s Game 1 will air on NBC, but Wednesday’s Game 2 will be on NBCSN. NBC Sports announced Friday that if the series between Pittsburgh and San Jose is tied 1-1, Game 3 will be on NBC, putting that pivotal matchup on the main network. Game 4 would be on NBCSN.

But if one team leads 2-0, Game 3 will air on NBCSN, with a possible championship-clinching Game 4 on NBC. The potential final three games will remain on NBC.

schedule

The Canucks preached patience, then made a ‘right now’ trade for Gudbranson

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
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A few months ago, when the Vancouver Canucks’ miserable season was drawing to a merciful close, club president Trevor Linden went on the radio and said, “When we look at getting ourselves out of this situation, it’s about drafting and developing, and that’s where our focus lies.”

Linden’s remarks were music to the ears of a large segment of the fan base that felt the Canucks had been too impatient, too focused on trying to make the playoffs with an aging roster that was in dire need of a rebuild.

“What we really need is patience,” Linden said at a season-ticket holders event. “It’s going to require some patience from our fan base and some patience from us.”

And so Canucks fans entered the offseason expecting the Canucks to be patient.

And then, on Wednesday, GM Jim Benning traded one of his top forward prospects in 20-year-old Jared McCannplus he threw in the 33rd overall draft pick this summer — for a 24-year-old, stay-at-home defenseman in Erik Gudbranson.

And how did Benning justify that move?

“I come from a scouting background, so to trade second-round picks away, it kills me,” he told Sportsnet’s Hockey Central (audio). “But where we’re at right now, I think we owe it to our fans to try to field the most competitive team that we can right now.”

You’ll note how Benning twice used the phrase “right now.”

And the Canucks wonder why their fans are confused.

To be fair, the Canucks are probably a better team with Gudbranson on it. They had a glaring hole on the right side of their defense, and Benning was determined to fill it. Also, it’s not like Gudbranson is old.

The worry, though, is that the Canucks are trying to serve two masters, the present and the future, and as a result, serving neither master particularly well.

A lot of people in Vancouver — not everyone, mind you, but a lot of people — see what they’re doing in Toronto, and they want the Canucks to do that. Trade veterans. Acquire picks. Lose now to win later, while accepting that there will be some “pain.”

What they don’t want is to travel down the same road the Maple Leafs had to travel — the years and years of mediocrity, or worse — before they finally tore everything down and started again.

In response to that line of thinking, the Canucks have used the Edmonton Oilers as the cautionary, tanking tale. Once a team accepts losing, it can be hard to get that winning culture back, or so the theory goes.

That’s why Benning acquired Brandon Sutter last offseason, and Gudbranson on Wednesday. To him — maybe not to others, but to him — those are “foundation” players, established enough to contribute in the present, while also young enough to be part of the future.

“Once we get the pieces in place from a team-building perspective, we’re going to hold on to those draft picks,” Benning promised.

We shall see.

Currently, Vancouver has just six selections in this summer’s draft, and only two of them are in the first four rounds.

Toronto, on the other hand, has 12 picks, including two in the first round, two in the second, two in the third, and two in the fourth.

Related: McCann’s frustrations illustrate ‘fine line’ Canucks are trying to walk

Need for speed: Sharks, Pens brace for ‘fast hockey’ in Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 29: Brenden Dillon #4 of the San Jose Sharks skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on March 29, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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It will be speed vs. speed in the Stanley Cup final between the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

San Jose got through the Western Conference the same way Pittsburgh got through the East: with plenty of depth and speed to kill. The final will feature the three top playoff scorers in the Sharks’ Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns against Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s going to be fast hockey,” Crosby said after the Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the East final Thursday night. “Two teams that want to play the exact same way, that want to get their D involved (and) their power play is really dangerous. … It’s going to be quite the series.”

The Sharks are in the Cup final for the first time in their 24-season franchise history and in Peter DeBoer’s first year as coach. The Penguins are back for the first time since winning it all in 2009 and made it after Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach in December.

In his first meeting with them, Sullivan challenged his players to be great and told them that’s how they win in the NHL. They’ve won in the playoffs on the strength of scoring from Crosby and speedy wingers Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin and Game 7 hero Bryan Rust, not to mention the goaltending of 22-year-old rookie Matt Murray.

Kessel is Pittsburgh’s leading scorer with 18 points on nine goals and nine assists after coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade last summer.

“I don’t think you could dream about that. You never could expect this,” Kessel said. “This is a huge moment in my career and my life.”

San Jose is also rolling along thanks to a summer pickup in goaltender Martin Jones, who was the Los Angeles Kings’ backup when they won the Cup in 2014. Couture, Pavelski and Burns are piling up the points, but this run is about aging veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau finally breaking through.

Thornton and Marleau, the top two picks in the 1997 draft, made the playoffs together with the Sharks in nine of 10 previous seasons but had yet to make the Cup final until now.

Crosby and Malkin made it twice, losing in 2008 to the Detroit Red Wings before winning the following season. At the time, it looked like the young core that also featured defenseman Kris Letang would challenge for the Cup every year.

Now they have a chance to add to their legacy, but it won’t be easy even with home-ice advantage in the series that starts Monday night in Pittsburgh. The Sharks are the Penguins’ deepest opponent yet.

“The Penguins should expect a team that’s deeper, quicker than Tampa, and a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence,” NBC Sports analyst Ed Olczyk said.

Confidence isn’t lacking for either team. The Sharks knocked off the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues to get here, while the Penguins beat the New York Rangers, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals and defending East-champion Lightning.