Don’t blame owners for trying to win

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If the owners are so worried that the players are making too much money, why do they keep handing out long-term, front-loaded contracts that maximize what they’re allowed to spend under the CBA?

A popular answer to that question is, “because they’re hypocrites.

Personally, I think the answer is, “because it’s the only way to sign good free agents and good players are an integral part of winning hockey games.”

Unfortunately for the NHL’s financially challenged franchises, the price for free agents is set by the teams that can afford them.

Some of those teams can afford them because they’re profitable businesses that get even more profitable when they win.

Others can afford them because they have owners that are so rich they don’t care if the business makes money – they just want to win a Stanley Cup.

The common theme is – because they want to win.

Meanwhile, the NHL’s money-losing clubs that don’t have Terry Pegula signing checks and shooting guns into the air are dragged into a game they can’t afford to play, but one they can’t simply walk away from either.

You want Shea Weber, Nashville? The Flyers have set the price. Take it, bite the financial bullet and see if you can claw something back in the new CBA, or leave it and go explain the decision to your fans. Sorry, but the Flyers aren’t going to worry if they hurt the Predators; they’ve got their own rather demanding fans to answer to. Unless you’ve got a problem with that, Flyers fans. Is your heart aching for Preds ownership? Or are you more concerned that Chris Pronger might never play again and Kimmo Timonen is 37?

And that’s the way it should be — each team looking out for its owns fans.

Come to think of it, the only team that seems to care about the rest of the league is the richest of them all – the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“These deals that are front-loaded and have small amounts at the back end, in my opinion, are designed to circumvent the salary cap,” said Leafs GM Brian Burke after failing to land prized free agent Brad Richards last summer.

“I won’t do them, I never have, I’m not going to. That’s not a contract structure we’re interested in.”

So Richards went to the Rangers, who were prepared to give him the front-loaded deal he wanted.

Fortunately, the Leafs are stacked down the middle so it wasn’t a big deal. Oh wait, no they’re not. They haven’t had a legitimate first-line center since Mats Sundin.

What do Leafs fans thinks of Burke’s refused to hand out front-loaded contracts? Let’s ask Leafs fan Sean McIndoe, aka @DownGoesBrown.

“Whether it’s some sense of duty to the league, or some sort of personal moral code, or just plain old self-promotion, Burke has a tendency to give the impression that he has quite a few priorities beyond doing whatever it takes to win,” McIndoe told PHT in an email.

Not that McIndoe is devastated the Leafs lost out on Richards, or any other free agent that signed the type of contract Burke eschews.

“Big-dollar UFA deals usually end up being a mistake, and Leaf fans know that as well as anyone,” said McIndoe.

But Burke isn’t telling Leafs fans – the same fans that pay the highest ticket prices in the NHL and haven’t experienced a playoff game since before the lockout – he won’t sign those deals because they’re not good for the team. And that’s what hard for Leafs fans to take.

“If Burke just sold it that way I think a lot of fans would be on board,” said McIndoe. “But instead he gets up on his soapbox and turns it into some sort of ethical issue, and that’s when fans start tuning him out.”

Look, I’m not saying the players should bend over for the owners in the CBA negotiations. The owners need to institute a more progressive revenue-sharing program. And the players shouldn’t be held responsible for things like the money pit in Glendale.

But let’s not spend too much time ripping owners for trying to win. Isn’t that what you want your team to do? Win?

Related: Reaching a new CBA is a negotiation, not an exercise in fairness

Kings’ Dustin Brown earns hearing for boarding Justin Schultz (Video)

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Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings will speak with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Friday following his game misconduct for boarding Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz.

The hit occurred midway through the third period of the Penguins’ 3-1 win Thursday night. Brown was handed a major for boarding and ejected from the game.

“I’m going to close on him. He stumbles, toe picks. I don’t drive him into the wall or anything,” Brown said afterward via LA Kings Insider. “Also, closing on the play, at the most it’s probably a two, I think. I mean, who knows because of the protocol and all that, but it’s one of those plays where I’m going to close and he’s in an unfortunate spot.”

Schultz did not return to the game but head coach Mike Sullivan said he was in the locker room afterward and it seemed like he was going to be fine.

Brown sees Schultz is on his knees by the boards and it isn’t like the Kings forward’s momentum takes him into the Penguins defender. He gets his hands raised as he cross-checks Schultz into the boards. As Jim Fox said during the broadcast, the DoPS wants players to avoid or minimize contact along the boards. This hit was completely avoidable.

“I fell, I’m facing the wall and then all of a sudden my face gets driven into the dasher there,” Schultz said via the Post-Gazette. “I don’t know why. There was plenty of time to not do that.”

The NHL has suspended Brown only once in his career, so he’s not considered a repeat offender here. Still, he’s going to be sitting for at least one game, possibly two, beginning Friday night in Anaheim.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Surgery for Shattenkirk after playing with pain for Rangers

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Now we might know why Kevin Shattenkirk‘s had such a disappointing debut season for the New York Rangers.

After playing with pain for months, Shattenkirk decided to undergo knee surgery, sidelining the defenseman indefinitely. To be specific, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton explained that Shattenkirk, 28, was dealing with a meniscus tear.

As you can see in this dour press conference, Shattenkirk said that he’s been dealing with knee issues all season.

While Shattenkirk has his critics even on his best day, it truly seemed like something dynamic was missing for the high-scoring blueliner. That’s been especially true lately; Shattenkirk was mired in a seven-game pointless streak heading into the surgery, and had just one assist in his past 13 contests. Even with those limitations, Shattenkirk managed a point every other game overall this season (23 points in 46 games).

It’s only natural to wonder how much more effective he might have been if not addled by injury. His possession stats took a big hit, and even if some of that might come from the Rangers’ counterpunching system, it’s reasonable to project better numbers if he was healthy.

One could definitely second-guess the Rangers for not pushing Shattenkirk to take care of the problem sooner instead of later, yet knee issues can often be tough to judge. No doubt about it, management likely wanted an immediate return on their considerable investment in Shattenkirk, too.

Shattenkirk’s absence opens the door for another polarizing offensive defenseman in Anthony Deangelo, not to mention other Rangers likely getting more reps on the power play and other situations.

It will be interesting to see if this injury loss represents that extra push for the Rangers to lean more toward being sellers at the trade deadline, as that was already being rumored lately by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, TSN’s Frank Seravalli, and others.

This is a real bummer either way for Shattenkirk, who certainly would have preferred to make a better first impression for a team he dreamed of playing for. Hopefully he’ll be more “himself” when he returns, whether that means late in 2017-18 or in 2018-19.

After holding off the Sabres for a win last night, the Rangers are on a small upward trend and currently hold the first wild-card spot in the East. That said, it’s a skin-tight race with Metropolitan Division rivals nipping at the Rangers’ heels, so they don’t have a lot of room for error.

Maybe the Rangers will be better off playing without a hampered Shattenkirk, but they’ll need to hit the ground running without him. It’s the latest bump in the road for what’s been a challenging season for New York.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Senators GM: ‘Priority’ to re-sign Erik Karlsson, ‘no rash decisions’ coming

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As he stood at the podium on Thursday with the Ottawa Senators’ bye week over, general manager Pierre Dorion said he still had hope for the playoffs.

He also laid out the scenarios for the second half that would potentially get the Senators into the postseason. In looking at the last four seasons and the point totals of the teams that grabbed the final spot in the East, Ottawa would need 57 points in their final 39 games to hit that number of 95 points.

That’s a tall ask for this Senators team. Dorion noted they would have to go 28-11-1, 27-10-3, 26-9-5 or 25-8-7 to have a shot. But then it hit him. “We have to be patient, and I can tell you that no rash decisions will be made,” he said. “We have to be realistic and understand our situation. If we don’t make the playoffs we have to start planning for the future, and that might me to take one step backwards to take two steps forward.”

Do you see this Senators team getting 57 points from 39 games when they’ve only managed 39 points in their first 43 games? They’re a negative possession team that is bottom-five on both the power play and penalty kill and their goaltenders have combined for a .907 even strength save percentage. Doing a complete 180-degree turn would be a monstrous accomplishment. It’s time to look forward.

Mark Stone and Cody Ceci are restricted free agents this summer, and there are a couple of players making big money who will be looking for a raise in 2019 — Matt Duchene, Derick Brassard and, of course, Erik Karlsson.

[Karlsson deserves every penny he can get, and he knows it]

Brassard’s name has been out there and flipping Duchene a few months after trading away Kyle Turris for him would be an interesting development. The big one will be Karlsson, who’s already stated publicly that he’s going to get what he feels he’s worth in his next contract. That’s something that could prove tricky for a Senators franchise whose owner isn’t known for shelling out the big bucks for players.

“Our first priority with Erik is to sign him. He’s a special player, but Wayne Gretzky got traded,” Dorion said. “If a team offers you an offer you can’t turn down, you listen. But our first priority is to sign Erik Karlsson and Erik Karlsson to be a Senator for life.”

After coming within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season, it’s all come crashing down hard for the Senators. If the slide continues and Dorion starts selling off assets with an eye toward the future, how Will Karlsson feel about that? He won’t want to be a part of a sinking ship, not at 27, and not with a monster contract coming his way within a year’s time.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Kings look to end losing streak vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Friday night, as the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks meet at Honda Center at 10 p.m. ET. You can stream the game by clicking here.

A five-game losing streak has knocked the Kings out of the Western Conference playoff picture. Currently, they sit just on the outside of a wild card spot due to a tiebreaker and one point behind the Calgary Flames for the third spot in the Pacific Division. The Ducks are not far behind with 51 points as they prepare for the second game of a five-game homestand.

Back tonight for the Ducks will be Andrew Cogliano, who was suspended two games for a hit on Adrian Kempe when the teams met on Saturday night. The ban ended Cogliano’s consecutive games streak at 830. As expected, it was a feisty evening, with three fights in the first period.

[WATCH KINGS-DUCKS LIVE AT 10PM ET]

Friday night will be Adam Henrique’s 22nd game with the Ducks, and he’s familiar with the rivalry theme having been a part of many games between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

“Those games, they always have a little extra,” Henrique said via the Orange County Register. “You circle them on the calendar. It’s that playoff-type atmosphere from the fans, on the ice. And it’s always ramped up to another level. It’s always something you got to be prepared for but it’s always the fun games to play in.”

The game is a big for LA, who has not only lost five straight but seven of their last nine games. Penalties did them in in Thursday night’s 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but head coach John Stevens felt his team took a big step toward getting out of this current funk. One question will be whether Dustin Brown will play after his game misconduct for boarding Justin Schultz in the third period. The Department of Player Safety could see it as that was punishment enough. (UPDATE: Brown will have a hearing on Friday.)

Whether Brown plays or watches from the press box, he tried to get a message across to his teammates postgame.

“If you’re not frustrated, there’s something wrong with you,” Brown said via the LA Times. “But we’re just trying to channel that frustration into positive energy that you can use to win games, because there’s going to be ups and downs, and you’ve got to find a way to dig yourself out.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.