Nashville Predators v Phoenix Coyotes

Oilers should benefit from Eric Belanger’s steadying presence

There were a lot of contracts handed out in early July, but a big chunk of them seemed to go to guys whose best days are (allegedly) in front of them. That’s why it was especially satisfying to see journeyman checking forward Eric Belanger get a three-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers; the two-way center has done everything that teams asked of him during his quietly impressive NHL career, only to see those clubs pass on bringing him back (sometimes in seemingly unprofessional ways) as a free agent or trade him to a different city.

Naturally, there’s always the chance that the Oilers could continue that string of instability by scuttling him out of town at some point, but that three-year, $5.25 million deal gives Belanger the consistency he’s been fighting for. If his previous work is any indication, Belanger should be worth every penny – even if it’s just doing the dirty jobs that the team’s talented young players aren’t quite as proficient at.

Again, it’s been a tough road for Belanger. The Edmonton Journal points out that the Oilers will be his seventh team since the lockout ended, which is especially odd since he spent the first 10 years of his career with the Los Angeles Kings. The constant changes of scenery have been rough on Belanger’s family, but the experienced forward has a healthy outlook on the situation.

“My oldest was nervous and crying on her first day. She’s eight and she didn’t want to go. It’s tough for her, trying to get some new friends,” said Belanger, who signed a three-year, $5.5-million US contract on July 1.

“This is her fourth school in four years. But we’re in a neighbourhood with lots of kids, which is great. It’s hard on my wife (Alexandra), but more so on my kids (Lola Pearl is in Grade 1) because they’re here because of me.

“But I know it’ll be fine.”

(snip)

“It’s the reality of the new NHL. You see lots of guys moving around. It’s not a bad thing. It means lots of teams want you. You’re doing something right. I actually was in one organization for 10 years, in Los Angeles. But since the lockout, I have moved around. Every place I’ve been has been nice,” he said.

Beyond the obvious benefits of a longer contract, the French-Canadian forward has another reason to be excited: the Oilers will be the first Canadian NHL team he’ll suit up for. He said that he grew up watching the Quebec Nordiques and Montreal Canadiens, so it will be a treat to play in a hockey hotbed – especially after a season with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Belanger brings tangible and intangible assets to Edmonton

Belanger said that he was surprised the Coyotes didn’t want him back, and looking at his numbers there, it’s tough to dispute his logic. While his offensive numbers were modest (40 points), he was the top Coyotes forward in overall ice time since Shane Doan missed 10 games. Belanger averaged 17:20 minutes per game, third among forwards behind Doan and hulking center Martin Hanzal. That’s an impressive nightly average for an under-the-radar player, with 1:47 of shorthanded time per game. Belanger was also a go-to guy in the faceoff circle, winning an impressive 55.3 percent of his draws – earning a tie with Travis Zajac for the 17th-best mark in the NHL.

Considering the Coyotes’ questions at center, it’s that much more surprising that they showed little interest in bringing Belanger back. Phoenix’s loss will be Edmonton’s gain, because the Oilers have struggled in the faceoff dot over the last few years.

Belanger brings a nice all-around game, plenty of experience and dominant faceoff skills to a team that needs more of all three elements. If you look at him as a replacement for departed center Andrew Cogliano, he represents an attractive opposite to the disappointing young player. Where Cogliano seemed like pure, unrealized potential, Belanger represents sheer productivity.

That’s not the kind of change that will propel the Oilers to a playoff spot, but if they improve in other areas, it could be a very underrated move.

Sabres extend Larsson: one year, $950,000

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Johan Larsson #22 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up before the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed forward Johan Larsson to a one-year contract.

Larsson was eligible to become a restricted free agent once his contract expired this summer. The Swedish-born player is coming off a season in which he set career bests with 10 goals, 17 points and 74 games. He also finished tied with rookie center Jack Eichel in scoring five game-winning goals.

Overall, he has 16 goals and 21 assists in 142 games for the Sabres.

Buffalo acquired Larsson in a trade that sent former Sabres captain Jason Pominville to Minnesota in April 2013. The Wild selected Larsson in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Contractual details, per the Buffalo News:

Burke: Once a team picks first overall, no more drafting first overall (for a few years at least)

Calgary Flames' President of Hockey Operations & acting GM, Brian Burke speaks to the media as team members show up for NHL hockey season-end activities in Calgary, Alberta, on Monday, April 14, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Larry MacDougal)
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Brian Burke isn’t trying to pick on the Edmonton Oilers — no really, he isn’t — but Calgary’s president of hockey ops doesn’t believe any team should get to draft first overall as much as his northern rivals have done the past few years.

“If you’re a team that picks first overall, you shouldn’t be allowed to pick first overall for some specified period … three years or five years, whatever … or even the top two teams, pick in the top two,” Burke told the Flames’ website.

“You could still pick four or five, still get a good player, but you can’t get rewarded for continued failure, or continued luck.”

The Oilers, of course, picked first overall in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. And after yet another dismal season in 2015-16, they have a 13.5 percent of winning’s tomorrow’s lottery and getting the same privilege again

“Everyone thinks when you talk about the draft having flaws, that you’re picking on Edmonton,” said Burke.

“There are a lot of teams that have followed this path and have repeated high, high picks for a number of years. Chicago did it. Florida’s done it. Buffalo’s done it. You can argue we did it in Toronto, certainly by not any effort of ours. We were just not successful in the lottery. This is not an indictment of any one team and it’s not an indictment of the system.

“This is saying, ‘Okay, if 30 reasonable people got into a room and said, how do we best award amateur talent in the draft without having abuses,’ I’m not sure this is the system we’d come up with. That’s all I’m saying.”

And many would agree with Burke.

In fact, many would go a lot further, suggesting the entire system should be rethought.

But the question will remain, what’s a better system? The current one incentivizes losing, and so some teams tank. They may not use the word “tanking,” but they’re sure not trying to win. Not in the short term.

Now, is it a good look for the NHL when teams are built to be bad and we see fans openly rooting for losses? No, it’s not a good look.

But would it be preferable for each team to have the same odds of drafting first overall. Even the Stanley Cup champion?

Imagine for a moment a system that didn’t take the standings into account. You just know there’d be some poor franchise that was chronically unlucky, year after year after year. And you just know there’d be some ultra-lucky franchise, too.

The fact is, as long as the NHL wants to maintain its competitive balance — and remember, there’s nothing the NHL is prouder of than its precious parity — losing teams will be rewarded in the draft.

Burke is fine with that.

All he’s saying is the current system could use a few tweaks.

And if the Oilers win the lottery tomorrow, you can bet there’ll be some.

After firing Boudreau, Ducks GM unloads on core players

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When the Ducks were struggling this season, GM Bob Murray took some not-so-thinly veiled shots at the team’s core players.

And after the club’s disappointing first-round playoff exit to Nashville, he was at it again.

The juicy stuff, from today’s presser following the Bruce Boudreau dismissal.

(Video here):

“Let’s face it: I’d like to know where they heck they were in Games 1 and 2. The players are going to have to answer that the next four or five days. Where were they? They showed up in Game 7, but where was the passion, the controlled emotion? Where the heck was that? They’re going to have to be held accountable, too.

“There’s definite concerns in that area, and I think the core has to be held responsible, and they have to be better. Maybe I haven’t been hard enough on them in the last few years, but they’re going to hear some different words this time.”

Murray then shared a few of those “different words” with the assembled media.

If you’re looking for one of the core guys Murray may be referring to, consider Corey Perry.

Having just wrapped the third of an eight-year, $69 million deal with a $8.625M cap hit (that’s a long-term contract, right?), Perry failed to score over the seven-game series against the Preds, and had a team-worst minus-7 rating.

Say what you will about the merits of plus-minus, but minus-7  is minus-7. It’s not good. Hard to see how it could be viewed positively.

Of course, there’s no doubt other core guys are in Murray’s crosshairs. But it’s not just about core guys making big money and failint to produce in crunch time. It’s also about core guys making big money, failing in crunch time and not going anywhere.

Because that affects the futures of the players around them.

Some of Murray’s anger — justifiably — comes with the long-terms deals he’s got on the books, and how they’ll likely hamstring the Ducks this summer. He’s already on record saying this will be an “interesting” offseasonHampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Rickard Rakell and Frederik Andersen are all RFAs, and it’s quite conceivable one or two won’t be with back in Anaheim for the start of training camp.

Had the Ducks made a legit playoff run, it would’ve taken the sting away from (potentially) losing players.

But now?

Consider what Murray said about retaining Rakell, who finished fourth on the team in scoring.

“In keeping certain people, other people may have to go,” he explained, per the Associated Press. “That’s what you get forced into. A couple of big contracts get signed, and you end up following because that’s what you get pushed into, and that’s what they expect.

“We are all guilty of that.”

Blues, Capitals to play exhibition game in Kansas City

Pedestrians walk past the Sprint Center, Sunday, March 24, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo. The city was preparing for the third round of the NCAA college basketball tournament at the arena after the region received 6-10 inches of snow overnight. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Kansas City is going to host another NHL exhibition game.

The St. Louis Blues announced today that they’ll take on the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 at Sprint Center. Both Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Ovechkin will be there, at least according to the press release.

The Blues last played in K.C. a couple of years ago when they took on the Stars in exhibition play. In 2011, a sellout crowd watched the Penguins and Kings at Sprint Center.

A market once considered a candidate for expansion or relocation — particularly after Sprint Center opened in 2007 — the NHL-to-Kansas City buzz has since died down. Last year, there was no interest from Kansas City when the league called for expansion applications.

Sensing an opportunity to make their team a favorite of all Missourians, not just the ones in St. Louis, the Blues have said they’d like to cultivate their fan base across the state in Kansas City.