Martin Erat, Alex Goligoski, Jamie Langenbrunner

Martin Erat looks forward to healthier 2011-12 season

There are many wonders in the world of hockey. Off the top of my head, a few include:

  • Alex Ovechkin “only” scoring 32 goals despite playing 79 games during the 2010-11 season. (Don’t bet on that happening again until he’s in his 30’s.)
  • Quietly elite goalie Tomas Vokoun only receiving serious offers from two suitors.
  • Jose Theodore receiving a job as a No. 1 goalie and Ed Jovanovski signing a hefty four-year contract without the use of a time machine.

Those are some mind-melting thoughts, but they’re isolated to more recent times. One bewildering thought that always seems to work itself out – at least to some extent – is: “How are the Nashville Predators actually going to score goals?”

Slim pickings for offense

Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn lead the team in points with 50 and Shea Weber tied Patric Hornqvist for second place with 48 last season. Despite these piddling top-end numbers, the Predators scored 219 goals in 2010-11, more than nine other teams. That being said, the Predators might actually be less potent next season after losing playoff standout Joel Ward and two washed up scorers in Steve Sullivan and J.P. Dumont.

Perhaps Ryan Ellis can swoop in and create some offense from the blueline if he makes the big club out of training camp (or maybe the Predators’ Big Three will be so motivated by contract years that they just won’t allow any goals), but it’s likely that the team will need to scratch and claw for most of their points once again next season. That means the team might need even more from Martin Erat, a player who has produced a steady stream of seasons in the 50-point range. (Which might be more like 60-point seasons in a more wide-open system, but that’s pure conjecture.)

Could next season be a career year for Erat?

From a point per game perspective, the 2010-11 season was the second best of Erat’s nine-year NHL career. He scored 50 points in 64 games (.78 points per game), second only to his .84 rate in 06-07 (57 points in 68 games).

An optimistic Predators fan might hope he can keep up that pace and produce a career-best campaign in 2011-12 if he could manage to stay healthy. Back issues plagued the Czech-born winger last season, but Josh Cooper reports that Erat is feeling refreshed this summer.

“I took a little bit more time off, just to get healed and on the right track,” Erat said. “I’m feeling OK right now and feeling good. Excited for being healthy next season.”

(snip)

So far this offseason, Erat said, he has mostly used lower-body weights in workouts and worked on his “explosiveness.” He also decided to work more on his midsection, in order to make sure the back issues don’t return.

“Right now it’s working for me,” Erat said.

Cooper points out that although Erat’s cap hit is a reasonable $4.5 million, the 2011-12 season marks a peak salary year of $6 million. For a budge-conscious team like Nashville, that means they’ll be expecting Erat’s best. Judging by their roster of gritty but not-so-creative offensive players, they’ll probably need his best, too.

Looking to make the leap: Daniel Sprong

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 15:  Daniel Sprong #41 of the Pittsburgh Penguins handles the puck in front of Kyle Turris #7 of the Ottawa Senators during the game at Consol Energy Center on October 15, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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This is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…

Daniel Sprong was stuck in a difficult position during the 2015-16 season.

He ended up being just one of eight players from the 2015 draft to play in the NHL, spending the first two months of the season in Pittsburgh after earning a spot on the roster thanks to an impressive training camp and preseason performance. But once there the Penguins really didn’t seem to know what to do with him. He showed flashes of the talent that earned him a spot on the roster, but it was also clear that his play away from the puck needed work and that he never completely had the trust of then-coach Mike Johnston.

If he was not a healthy scratch, he was only playing limited minutes.

But because he was only 18 years old, he was not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the AHL-CHL transfer agreement.

That meant if he wasn’t going to play in Pittsburgh, a league that was probably a little too advanced for him at the time, he had to return to the QMJHL to play for his junior team, the Charlottetown Islanders, in a league that he was probably too good for. It’s an agreement that works great for the CHL, but doesn’t really give prospects the best chance to develop that season because their only options are a league where they are overmatched or a league where they are probably the best player on the ice every time they go over the boards.

Eventually, the Penguins were left with little choice and did in fact return him to the Q where he, quite predictably, dominated the competition and recorded 46 points in 33 games.

At the conclusion of Charlottetown’s season, he was able to play for the Penguins’ AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the playoffs where he scored five goals and added two assists in only 10 games.

The problem he is going to face this season is that the Penguins’ forward group is already mostly locked in at the start as they are returning everybody from their Stanley Cup winning roster, which is going to make things tight for somebody new to break into the lineup.

But Sprong is clearly the team’s best forward prospect at the moment and one of the few players in the system that seems to have top-six potential. Whether it’s through his own play forcing his way into NHL action or an injury, he should have an opportunity to be a factor at some point this season.

‘He’s earned it’ — Jets name Wheeler new captain

CALGARY, AB - MARCH 16: Blake Wheeler #26 of the Winnipeg Jets in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on March 16, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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It was widely assumed that Blake Wheeler would inherit Andrew Ladd‘s captaincy in Winnipeg and, on Wednesday, the club made it official.

Wheeler, 30, will become the second player to captain the Jets since the franchise moved from Atlanta in 2011, with Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Scheifele serving as alternates.

The Wheeler decision was something of a no-brainer, as he’s one of the club’s longest tenured player (seven seasons and counting), spending the the last three as one of Ladd’s alternate captains.

In the summer of ’13, Wheeler inked a six-year, $33.6 million extension with the Jets and has since established himself as one of the clubhouse leaders. He was a prominent voice during the Evander Kane saga, mincing no words when explaining what was expected of Jets players.

“There’s a standard that everyone needs to live up to,” Wheeler said, per the Sun. “We’re professionals, we make a lot of money. And we’re expected to uphold a certain standard. That’s the code we live by.

“If you don’t like it then there’s other places to go. This is the way we do things.”

Flyers unveil golden 50th anniversary jerseys

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It might seem inappropriate to release Flyers news on Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT but, given the immediate backlash to said news, maybe it’s appropriate after all.

On Wednesday, the Flyers unveiled their commemorative 50th anniversary jerseys, which are basically regular Flyers jerseys, but with some gold on them.

Not sure what else to say. They’re gold. Guess it’s worth mentioning the inside collar of each jersey is emblazoned with “EST. 1967,” an homage to the year the Flyers entered the NHL as an expansion franchise.

Oh yeah, Philly will wear the new third jersey 12 times this season, per TSN.

Shortly after the release, the Internet went ahead and did what it does:

For more on the jerseys, click here.

Stars promote White, Janko to assistant GM roles

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: Jim Nill of the Detroit Red Wings works the draft floor during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Dallas Stars made some front office adjustments on Wednesday.

Longtime executive Les Jackson, 63, has been “elevated” from his role as Jim Nill’s assistant GM to “senior advisor to the general manager” while Scott White, the GM of Dallas’ AHL affiliate in Texas, has been promoted to AGM.

White will work alongside fellow new AGM Mark Janko, who was promoted from his role as the club’s director of hockey administration.

What does it all mean?

Not a ton, though it’s interesting to note the club is shifting Jackson’s role after he was close to taking the Arizona gig earlier this year.

Jackson was believed to be the original frontrunner to replace the outgoing Don Maloney but, after he and the Coyotes were unable to strike a deal, the club proceeded to hire 26-year-old John Chayka, the youngest GM in NHL history.