There’s no way you can argue against Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin as two of the NHL’s biggest stars. But when the Russian countrymen face off against each other on Sunday afternoon (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC) it’ll be a tale of two guys who have seen their seasons go in different directions.
Alex Ovechkin: 46 GP – 19 goals, 17 assists – 2nd on Caps in points (Nicklas Backstrom)
Ovechkin and the Caps have had a disappointing season even though they sit atop the Southeast Division (tied with the Panthers in points, just three ahead of the Jets.) We’re used to seeing the Capitals turn things on and take over in the second half, but Ovechkin’s offensive struggles might make that difficult this time ’round.
Rather than helping his teammates raise their game, Ovechkin has slumped — especially with Backstrom out with a concussion. Normally he’s been on a line with Backstrom and Troy Brouwer but unlike Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, Ovechkin hasn’t been able to elevate his linemate’s games.
Ovechkin is on a pace to score less than 40 goals this season while the Caps struggle through trying to stay on top of their division. To say it’s been frustrating for the former two-time MVP this season would be an understatement.
Evgeni Malkin: 40 GP – 25 goals, 30 assists – 1st in NHL in points, t-3rd in goals
Simply put, Malkin has been a monster in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are missing both Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal, yet haven’t missed a beat thanks to Malkin. He’s scoring tons of goals, setting up teammates for others, and looking like the guy who helped Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Where Malkin has done things different than Ovechkin is in how he’s developed chemistry with linemate James Neal. Neal and Malkin have become a dominant one-two punch as Neal has scored 24 goals and the pair has combined for 98 points, making them one of the top scoring duos in the league and a huge reason why the Penguins have won five in a row.
Trevor Linden didn’t mention Evander Kane by name, because, well, you know…
But yesterday on the radio, the Vancouver Canucks’ president of hockey operations sure didn’t close the door on acquiring a player with Kane’s type of history.
You can listen to the audio of Linden’s interview with TSN 1040 here. (The Kane discussion starts at around the 3:10 mark.)
The main takeaway is that Linden refused to say that a player with a history of getting into trouble with the police would absolutely not be welcome on the Canucks.
“I think with any situation, they’re all unique to themselves,” Linden said, before warning against the temptation to jump to conclusions prior to knowing all the facts.
“Ultimately we’d prefer not to have that situation arise, certainly with our own players,” he added. “It’s a big world out there. Obviously, the challenges are significant for young guys who make a lot of money and get themselves into spots that they make mistakes.”
The Kane speculation has been kicked into overdrive in Vancouver (where Kane was born and raised and played his junior hockey), despite the absence of any hard evidence that the Canucks are talking seriously with Buffalo about a deal.
It’s been reported that the Sabres’ ability to sign Jimmy Vesey could impact their willingness to trade Kane. Vesey can’t make his decision until Aug. 15, so perhaps we’ll have to wait until then.
But according to Canucks beat writer Jason Botchford (The Province), Kane is definitely on Vancouver’s radar.
“There’s no doubt about it, the Vancouver Canucks are going to be in on Evander Kane,” Botchford told TSN 1040 radio. “Ownership loves Kane. Jim Benning really likes Kane. Trevor? He’s maybe a little bit ambivalent, but he could be won over. They’re going to be in on Evander Kane.”
Related: Canucks made Jets ‘fair offer’ for Kane
Nashville’s momentous offseason continued today with the signing of forward Calle Jarnkrok to a six-year, $12 million contract.
That’s a cap hit of just $2 million, all the way through 2021-22.
Suffice to say, it’s not often that a player signs such a long deal, for such a modest cap hit. Jarnkrok notched career highs in goals (16) and assists (14) in 81 games last season for the Preds. He kills penalties, too.
At the very least, the 24-year-old has some financial security now. But for Nashville, as long as his production doesn’t fall off a cliff, he could end up being a great bargain.
Jarnkrok had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4.
Related: Preds avoid arbitration with Petter Granberg — two years, $1.225 million
The Detroit Red Wings didn’t need Petr Mrazek‘s arbitration hearing either.
The day after the Wings avoided the process by locking up defenseman Danny DeKeyser, they agreed on a two-year deal with Mrazek, with a reported cap hit of $4 million.
Mrazek, 24, went 27-16-6 last season with a .921 save percentage. Those numbers compared favorably to Jimmy Howard‘s (14-14-5, .906); however, GM Ken Holland has argued that keeping Howard could be best for Mrazek’s development.
“It could possibly be detrimental if we put Petr in a situation where we’re just going to throw him out and play 70 games and no matter how you play, we’re going to keep putting you out,” said Holland.
Granted, it may be that Howard is simply untradeable. He’s 32 years old, hasn’t put up solid numbers the past three seasons, and has three years remaining on his contract with a cap hit of just under $5.3 million.
If Howard remains, the Wings will have just under $9.3 million in cap space allocated to their goaltenders next season, one of the highest totals in the league.
Mrazek, by the way, will still be a restricted free agent when his new contract expires in the summer of 2018.
With new majority owners and now talk of a new arena, the future of the New York Islanders has been a popular topic lately.
Not surprisingly, it’s led to plenty of discussion about the future of captain John Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018.
Ownership has insisted that it won’t get that far, that Tavares will be re-signed. The Isles will have “no financial constraints,” owner Jon Ledecky promised.
But what about Tavares? What does he think?
“I think I’ve always showed my commitment, my appreciation and my desire to play on Long Island,” the 25-year-old told Sportsnet 590 radio on Tuesday, per NHL.com. “I would love for that to continue for the long haul. I think you look at some of the greatest players in the game have been able to spend their entire career somewhere. I hope I’m in that same position.”
As for the speculation he could sign in Toronto?
“I would not count on that,” he said.
So start the countdown to July 1, 2017. That’s when Tavares can officially start negotiating an extension with the Isles.
Perhaps by then we’ll even know where the team will be playing its future games. Will it be Brooklyn or somewhere else?