Jettisoning salary: Washington sends Eric Fehr to Winnipeg for prospect, 2012 4th rounder

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Once the Washington Capitals’ payroll expanded beyond the $64.3 million salary cap ceiling thanks to the signing of rugged forward Troy Brouwer, it became clear that something had to give. While Washington isn’t quite out of the woods yet, they moved to around $63.84 million in cap commitments after shipping Eric Fehr and his $2.2 million salary to the Winnipeg Jets for right wing Danick Paquette and Winnipeg’s 2012 fourth round pick.

A nice boost for the Jets

Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been wise not to splurge too often on free agent talent, but some might be frustrated with the team’s lack of movement. They probably took a sober look at a very weak free agent field and decided to stay put. That’s not a bad strategy since it’s likely that the Jets won’t run out of goodwill from hockey-starved fans for at least one or two seasons, but some fans probably wanted some instant gratification.

Fehr probably won’t light the world on fire in Winnipeg, but the Jets (then the Atlanta Thrashers) did a nice job with the last first round pick they received via trade with another team who needed to get rid of cap space. That last example would be their current captain, Andrew Ladd, who had a career year with Atlanta after the Chicago Blackhawks completed their post-championship cap purge. Fehr was Washington’s first round pick in 2003 (18th overall) but only 20 points in 52 games in 2010-11 and his career high is just 39 points so far (from 09-10). Fehr should be able to use his substantial size and solid skills in a larger role with Winnipeg than he probably would have enjoyed anytime soon with Washington.

(If the injury-prone winger can stay healthy, that is.)

His $2.2 million salary cap runs out after the 2011-12 season, so he’ll share another similarity with Ladd’s previous season: the crucial motivation that comes with a contract year. Don’t be shocked if he has a career year as a medium-sized fish in a small pond with the Jets. It will also be a homecoming for Fehr, who is from the Winnipeg area.

Capitals might have a little more work to do

The Capitals will probably still need to move a contract or two (unless Tom Poti’s $2.875 million cap hit is erased after he goes on the long-term injury reserve, as some speculate will happen) if the team wants to lock up important restricted free agent defenseman Karl Alzner. Alzner joined forces with John Carlson to form Washington’s young but often very effective shutdown defensive pairing in 2010-11, so he’s probably in line for a nice contract extension.

Paquette is a rugged right wing who was a 2008 third round pick (64th overall) of the Atlanta Thrashers. He scored 20 points and registered 197 penalty minutes in the ECHL last season. It would be surprising if he earned much playing time at the NHL level, but if nothing else, he continues the Capitals’ 2011 summertime trend of adding grit and sand paper to its lineup.

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This is an obvious salary dump for Washington. Fehr became expendable after the team added Brouwer and Joel Ward to their noticeably tougher mix. The Thrashers didn’t have to give up a ton to get Fehr, who might be another moderately valuable piece to their rebuilding puzzle. If he doesn’t fit in well, then they only needed to commit a toss-up prospect, a middle-of-the-pack draft pick and one affordable year of salary to him. This move constitutes a small (but potentially lucrative) win for Winnipeg and a survivable, necessary loss for Washington.

Blackhawks’ Anisimov suffered high-ankle sprain in mid-March

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Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov was not himself in the playoffs, and by the fourth game against the Predators his ice time was limited to just 14:18.

It turns out he had a pretty good excuse. Anisimov suffered a high-ankle sprain on March 14 against the Montreal Canadiens, and that’s a tough injury to overcome in less than a month.

Anisimov missed the rest of the regular season with the injury. He returned for the playoffs but failed to register a single point in four losses to Nashville.

“Being away for that time period and coming right back into the playoffs, obviously you’re not as sharp as you want to be,” Anisimov’s agent told the Daily Herald’s John Dietz.

PHT’s second-round playoff predictions, featuring the red-hot Random Thing Picker

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It was a tough first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for many of the so-called experts of the world.

Upsets included the Predators over the Blackhawks and the Blues over the Wild. The Rangers over the Canadiens was a quasi-upset, too.

Here at PHT, it was a mixed bag. Mike Halford and Cam Tucker each went an impressive 6-2. And so too did the Random Thing Picker, which as its name suggests, picks random things. (And picks them rather well, apparently.)

Of note, the Random Thing Picker and James O’Brien were the only ones to pick the Preds over the ‘Hawks. So congratulations to both robotic lifeforms on that bit of soothsaying.

Rounding out the rest of the first-round results, Adam Gretz and Joey Alfieri went 4-4, while at 3-5, O’Brien and yours truly couldn’t even crack .500. (Stupid Jake Allen.)

On to the second round!

Washington versus Pittsburgh (Stream Capitals-Penguins)

Brough: Capitals in 7
Halford: Penguins in 6
O’Brien: Capitals in 7
Gretz: Capitals in 7
Tucker: Capitals in 6
Alfieri: Capitals in 7
Random Thing Picker: Capitals

New York versus Ottawa (Stream Rangers-Senators)

Brough: Senators in 6
Halford: Senators in 7
O’Brien: Rangers in 7
Gretz: Rangers in 6
Tucker: Rangers in 6
Alfieri: Senators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Senators

St. Louis versus Nashville (Stream Blues-Predators)

Brough: Predators in 6
Halford: Blues in 7
O’Brien: Predators in 6
Gretz: Predators in 6
Tucker: Predators in 7
Alfieri: Predators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Blues

Anaheim versus Edmonton (Stream Ducks-Oilers)

Brough: Ducks in 7
Halford: Ducks in 6
O’Brien: Ducks in 6
Gretz: Oilers in 7
Tucker: Oilers in 6
Alfieri: Ducks in 6
Random Thing Picker: Ducks

Feel free to add your picks below…

Sharks say getting Jones, Vlasic signed before camp ‘a priority’

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Doug Wilson has a busy summer ahead.

Decisions need to be made on veteran leaders Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, both pending UFAs. Those figure to be crucial negotiations but, to hear the Sharks GM explain it, there are equally vital deals to be reached with goalie Martin Jones, and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

“Both of them are extremely important to get under contract,” Wilson said yesterday, per NBC Sports California. “We can start those discussions in the next little while.”

Both Jones and Vlasic have one year remaining on their current deals, and are eligible to sign extensions on July 1. Wilson said it’s a “priority” to get them done before September’s training camp.

Jones, 27, is heading into the last of a three-year, $9 million deal with a $3M average annual cap hit. It’s safe to assume he’s in for a lengthy extension with a significant raise, given how good he’s been since joining the Sharks. He backstopped them to the Cup Final last season and has been one of the league’s busiest workhorses, starting 65 games in each of the last two years.

Vlasic, 30, has spent his entire 10-year career in San Jose. He’s developed a reputation as one of the league’s better defensive defensemen, strengthened by his role on Canada’s gold medal-winning side at the 2014 Olympics, and 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

At this point, it’s fair to speculate when all these deals will get done. Wilson has a full plate with the four aforementioned negotiations, and also has to hammer out contracts for a trio of RFA forwards — Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney.

Are the Leafs getting into ‘go for it’ territory?

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Two years ago, Mike Babcock came to Toronto and predicted there would be “pain.”

He was right for one year. The Maple Leafs finished dead last in 2015-16, then got Auston Matthews as a reward.

But the pain didn’t last long, in large part thanks to Matthews. The Leafs made the playoffs in Babcock’s second season as head coach, and they even gave the Washington Capitals a good scare in the first round.

Now the question has to be asked — should the Leafs start going for it?

Your first instinct may be to laugh. But it is not such a ridiculous question when you consider Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty were all in their early 20s when they won the Stanley Cup for the first time.

Mathews turns 20 in September, and he’s already one of the NHL’s best centers. Wingers William Nylander, 20, and Mitch Marner, 19, aren’t too bad either, and neither is 26-year-old center Nazem Kadri.

All four of those forwards are under club control for years to come. Also locked up long term is starting goalie Frederik Andersen.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the back end. Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Nikita Zaitsev can all move the puck well, but defensively they’re still suspect. What the Leafs could really use is a top-four defenseman who can match the Leafs’ pace while also killing penalties and shutting down the opposition’s top players. And if he can play the right side, even better.

Of course, you know who else could use a defenseman like that? The other 30 teams. Top-four defensemen are not cheap to get on the trade market. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers.

Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello met with the media Tuesday to reflect on the season, and also give his thoughts on the future. He said the Leafs have to be careful not to get complacent, that it only gets harder now. He was asked about the market for defensemen. He said it’s hard to gauge because of the expansion draft.

But Lamoriello also said, “There’s a five-year plan that changes every day.”

Which would suggest the Leafs are willing to accelerate their schedule — that they may, in fact, see an opportunity to compete for the Cup a lot sooner than they originally thought possible.

Consider:

The Penguins went from out of the playoffs in ’06, to losing in the first round in ’07, to the Stanley Cup Final in ’08, then won it all in ’09.

The Blackhawks went from out of the playoffs in ’08, to the conference finals in ’09, to a championship in ’10.

The Kings went from out of the playoffs in ’09 to winning the Cup in ’12.

So… if you were the Leafs, wouldn’t you see an opportunity, too?