Buffalo Sabres sign Marc-Andre Gragnani to one-year deal, must clean up salary cap mess

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The Buffalo Sabres just announced that they re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani. The financial terms were not disclosed, but the amount couldn’t have been too high since the Sabres are already almost $4 million over the salary cap ceiling according to Cap Geek.

In a vacuum, it’s great news for the Sabres to re-sign the young offensive blueliner, who was voted the AHL’s defenseman of the year and then made an impact on the NHL-level last season (three points in nine regular season games and then seven points in the team’s seven-game series against the Philadelphia Flyers). Gragnani could be a big part of Buffalo having a much-improved defense next season after they also brought in Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr.

That being said, the Sabres now face two messes they will need to clean up because of this and other moves. The first is the most obvious: they need to unclog at least $4 million worth of cap space before the 2011-12 season begins. They might bury a salary or two in the AHL* and/or trade away a player or two. Jochen Hecht ($3.525 million cap hit) has been mentioned as a possible trade target because of his cap hit, expiring contract and the notion that he might be an odd man out with all of the team’s new hires.

Buffalo’s challenges extend beyond getting under the cap this summer

With all that focus on the immediate future, the one-year deal also underscores something that might be a problem for the Sabres: next off-season. They could experience some serious restricted free agent headaches in the summer of 2012, especially if Gragnani has a strong full season. Tyler Myers could cost a bundle of money to re-sign and Tyler Ennis is another promising young player who can earn himself some nice dough with a strong 2011-12 campaign.

The good news is that the Sabres will probably be able to keep who they want the most since they have a big chunk of aging players with expiring contracts. Buffalo has almost $50 million committed to 15 players for 2012-13, with some cap relief coming from the expiring contracts of Hecht, Brad Boyes ($4M), Ales Kotalik ($3M) and Paul Gaustad ($2.3M). The problem is that the Sabres’ big spending might force them to put a top-heavy team on the ice if the trio of Myers, Ennis and Gragnani end up breaking the bank.

Ultimately, the Sabres should celebrate the re-signing but also realize that they have a lot of work to do in the next month and then next off-season. It remains to be seen if their big spending will actually be worth it.

* = Hopefully Kotalik didn’t get too excited about playing in Buffalo again …

The case for Hurricanes signing Jaromir Jagr

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

It’s tough to pick the perfect NHL home for Jaromir Jagr because there are just so many variables.

There are, for instance, unspoken demands. Jagr has easily earned the right to ask for a significant salary and role thanks to his Hall of Fame career. It’s his right to hold out for what he wants.

Of course, it makes him a tougher puzzle piece to wedge into a team’s bigger picture. The 45-year-old could finally totally fall off the map in 2017-18. Naturally, even if he merely continues to slip, there’s the argument that Jagr is taking minutes away from players with a brighter future.

SBNation blog Canes Country, for instance, ultimately argued against the Carolina Hurricanes bringing the legend in:

Justin Williams was brought in this offseason to help bring veteran leadership to the Hurricanes, and it seems general manager Ron Francis – Jagr’s former teammate in Pittsburgh – is done making moves. Their leadership quota filled, there’s really no place for Jagr to fit in the Canes’ lineup.

Perhaps not, but let’s trot out a few reasons why the Hurricanes should really think it over.

Star power

In Mid-July, 24/7 Wall St. reported that the Hurricanes saw the second-largest percentage drop in professional sports over the last decade. An eight-year postseason drought tends to hurt a team at the box office, after all.

Now, winning would be the best way for the Hurricanes to fill the seats. There’s no denying that.

Still, for all the hype about this roster full of young stars, that buzz might not go far enough to really draw mainstream attention. Signing Jaromir Jagr would be a way to draw eyes to the Hurricanes, and with a ton of cap space, Carolina is nicely equipped to meet his demands.

Grumpy old men?

Canes Country makes a strong point about how Jagr might not fit in with, say, Jordan Staal or Victor Rask.

Of course, part of that reasoning is based on a perfect world scenario where no one gets injured, but even assuming that’s the case … perhaps head coach Bill Peters could find some creative solutions?

For one thing, the question of foot speed could, conceivably, be mitigated by putting the few elder statesmen together. Perhaps Jagr would line up with Lee Stempniak and/or Justin Williams, thus sequestering some of the older legs and giving Peters a chance to massage situations to their advantage?

He might still provide a boost

It’s understandable to point to, say, dipping numbers for Jagr without Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and say that he can’t do it on his own.

On the other hand, Jagr sure seems like he would fit in on a team that’s quietly building a reputation as a possession powerhouse. Even in 2016-17, Jagr’s incredible hockey IQ and puck protecting prowess allowed him to put up the sort of possession numbers that players half his age would envy.

Just consider how he compares to the HERO chart standard for a first-line winger:

If fancy stats bore you, consider this:

Maybe Jagr wouldn’t be such a bad stylistic fit, after all?

***

Hurricanes GM Ron Francis said that he’s comfortable with the team as is, yet he’d also be willing to make an upgrade. The implication seemed to be via the trade route, but the Hurricanes really might want to give some extra thought to bringing in Jagr.

It might just help them break that playoff slump.

Gulutzan thinks Flames can be ‘a 100-point club’

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Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan covered a wide array of topics in a great Q & A with the Calgary Sun’s Wes Gilbertson, with his discussion of how well 2017-18 could go possibly being the most interesting note:

“The challenge, for sure, is managing expectations. We weren’t a 5-10-1 team to start last year, and we weren’t a 16-5 team to end,” Gulutzan said. “We finished with 94 points. I think, realistically, we can do better than that. But to make a jump from 77 to 94 to 118 isn’t realistic. So we have to manage that expectation. Our goal is we think we could be a 100-point club. That’s kind of what I think a lot about in the summer — trying to manage that expectation but also have something in mind that we think we could be.”

Interesting.

Adding Travis Hamonic to a defensive mix that was already quite impressive should raise Calgary’s ceiling to begin with. It doesn’t hurt that many of their best players are in the meat of their primes, from Johnny Gaudreau to Dougie Hamilton to Sean Monahan and more.

Gulutzan praised the size, character, and “play” of new goalies Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, yet that might once again be the reason to wonder if the Flames can make that next step from a team fighting for a playoff spot to a team legitimately contending.

(The jury’s still out on Gulutzan, too, though he makes a reasonable point that 2017-18 could be more stable as his second season after the “mega changes” of his debut season.)

There are some other interesting bits in this interview, which is worth your time, including:

  • Micheal Ferland is slated to start the season as Calgary’s first-line winger alongside Gaudreau and Monahan.
  • Hamonic will likely pair up with T.J. Brodie to begin; Gulutzan says that while Hamonic isn’t a “void” on offense, he expects Hamonic to open things up for Brodie.
  • Gulutzan expects a “big leap” from Sam Bennett.

Check out the full back-and-forth at the Calgary Sun.

If you need even more Flames action, there’s also this:

Francis hopes Hurricanes live up to hype

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t been able to make the jump that some have been anticipating for a while, but that hasn’t shaken GM Ron Francis’ confidence in head coach Bill Peters. At least not yet.

Francis had high praise for Peters and other facets of this Hurricanes team in a detailed interview with Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer.

And, oh yeah, Francis also doesn’t have an issue with the Hurricanes being a dark horse candidate in many eyes.

“It all starts with us and we have a lot of belief in our players and we think we’re capable of having a good year and doing some good things,” Francis said. “I have no problem with people talking about that and putting those kind of expectations on us. Hopefully, they’re right.”

Even so, Francis had some interesting things to say about the makeup of the team, including the fact that while he’s comfortable with where Carolina stands, he’s also open to making a move if an opportunity comes up.

Don’t expect him to bash what they have, though.

Take the team’s set of centers, for instance.

“If you look around the league and you say ‘This guy is a legitimate No. 1, top-line center,’ there’s probably 16 of those guys in the entire league,” Francis said. “They are not easy to find, and a lot of time you have to draft those guys and develop them. We’re hoping we have that kind of guy in our system already, but I certainly feel the guys we have in the middle are elite center men.”

Francis reasonably views Jordan Staal as a sturdy “horse” for the team, and doesn’t seem too concerned by Victor Rask‘s uneven 2016-17 season. Even in also flattering depth options, those two will indeed play a role in Carolina taking the next step, as long as some big changes – Scott Darling getting a significant contract, Justin Williams coming back – end up working out.

That said, file this under “Easier said than done,” as the Hurricanes must navigate the brutal Metropolitan Division to get a “foot in the playoffs.” For all we know, that might not work out even if this group makes some big strides in 2017-18.

Either way, it’s enjoyable to get Francis’ perspective on the team, being that he was one of the most cerebral players of his era. Read the full article here.

Looking to make the leap: Haydn Fleury

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

The Carolina Hurricanes have built an impressive stockpile of young defensemen, arguably the best in the NHL.

Looking at their current NHL roster there isn’t one defensemen under contract for this season that is over the age of 26, while three of their best — and youngest — are all signed to long-term deals. Not only are they young, they are also already really, really good and just need a more stable goaltending situation behind them to help the Hurricanes take a big leap forward this season.

For as good and promising as that group already is, there is another young player in the pipeline that hasn’t even had a chance to make an impact yet in 2014 first-round pick (No. 7 overall) Haydn Fleury.

The 21-year-old Fleury is coming off of his first year of pro hockey, spending the 2016-17 season with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Other than missing part of the season due to injury it was mostly a successful pro debut for the young rearguard, appearing in 69 games and scoring seven goals to go with 19 assists and showing considerable improvement down the stretch following a slow start.

The logjam of young defensemen already in Carolina is going to make it tough for Fleury to crack the lineup, but the No. 6 spot on the blue line does seem to be up for grabs between him and Klas Dahlbeck. Even if he doesn’t grab that spot at the start of the season it seems reasonable to assume that at some point during the season — whether it be due to injury, a trade, or just a lack of performance from somebody else — that he is going to make his NHL debut.

When he does it will be just another promising young player added to a defensive core that already boasts Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Given the contracts Faulk, Slavin and Pesce are signed to, and the fact Hanifin and Fleury are still on their entry level deals it gives the Hurricanes a ton of flexibility when it comes to constructing their roster. Any of them would be attractive pieces in trade talks to make improvements elsewhere, or they can be the foundation of the defense — and the team itself — for the next six or seven years for a remarkably affordable price.