NHL GMs ponder the return of the red line

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As an unrepentant hockey nerd, few things bring me more joy than a gorgeous, tape-to-tape outlet pass.

For that reason, the scuttlebutt around the return of the red line – and the two-line pass rule that would come with it – scares me. That being said, there are more than a few general managers who believe that re-instituting the red line would help “control” a game that’s gotten faster and increasingly dangerous but not necessarily more skilled.

Yahoo’s Nicholas Cotsonika provides an in-depth report on the debated issue, including Ken Hitchcock’s interesting argument for its return.

“If you want more puck possession in the game, you’ve got to bring the red line back in the game so there’s more control,” Hitchcock said. “It slows down a little bit. Second thing, the big hits on the defensemen, it comes from the middle of the ice. It doesn’t come from the walls. It comes from the middle of the ice.”

Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman understands the sentiment behind bringing back the red line, but advances a compelling counterargument: are we so certain that the removal of the red line is really the main culprit for an increase in injuries?

“In theory, I understand it,” Bowman said. “I don’t know in actuality. Is that why there’s been injuries? Because of the red line? Or is it more that there’s no obstruction? … I don’t know if there’s a correlation between the red line and injuries. … If you really broke it down, I’m not so sure that allowing the stretch pass is going to result in more concussions.”

source: Getty ImagesWhile one defense-leaning coach made an argument for the red line, Nashville Predators bench boss Barry Trotz articulates my worst fears about bringing back back the red line.

“I think actually it would hurt the game, putting the red line back in, to be honest, because of the fact that you could just back up and keep everybody in front of you,” Trotz said. “Now they can spread you out, and it allows the skill players a little bit more room.”

If the league really wants to limit injuries related in large part to unnecessary collisions, here’s my two-pronged suggestion that could take care of some of the concerns without allowing devious defensive coaches to get their trap-friendly red line back:

1. Remove the trapezoid: Why get rid of the red line when you can remove two other red lines that arbitrarily limit a marketable skill for puck-moving goalies? By allowing the Martin Brodeurs of the world more freedom to play the puck, defensemen wouldn’t have to subject themselves to as many collisions and yawn-inducing dump-and-chase strategies would be a little less effective.

2. Hybrid/no-touch icing: It’s funny that the NHL’s executives are pondering a rather drastic change yet they continuously ignore an alteration to a rule that places players in danger for marginal returns. How many ugly touch-up injuries need to happen before the league wises up? Is the chase for those pucks thrilling enough – and the success rate in attempting to retrieve those loose pucks high enough – for them to be worth the risks?

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So how do you feel about these ideas? What rule changes and/or tweaksshould be considered – if any? Debate away in the comments.

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.