Under Pressure: Dave Nonis

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Toronto Maple Leafs we picked… general manager Dave Nonis.

In a single season he managed to accomplish what his predecessor, Brian Burke, never could: He led the Maple Leafs the playoffs. Of course he did that with a team largely built by Burke and while Nonis still deserves some recognition, last summer was his first opportunity to mold this team in major ways.

So what did he decide to do? For starters, he decided to re-sign of Tyler Bozak to a five-year, $21 million extension and ink of David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million deal.

Those two contracts are big risks as they are lucrative deals to players that have historically been solid, but not consistently great. Clarkson in particular is a big roll of the dice as that contract will take the physical 29-year-old well past his prime.

Taken as part of the larger picture and those deals represent a summer theme of seemingly dismissing potential cap implications. When they acquired goaltender Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings, Nonis offered to retain a cap hit of around half a million. Paul Ranger, who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2009-10, was offered a one-way, $1 million deal. More recently, with 13 other forwards inked to one-way contracts and already close to the cap ceiling, the Maple Leafs handed Mason Raymond a similar contract.

When he was still a restricted free agent, Nazem Kadri expressed frustration over the Maple Leafs’ cap situation and while he did eventually agree to a bridge contract anyways, Toronto has put itself in a bad position when it comes to dealing with restricted free agent defenseman Cody Franson.

Ultimately, Nonis will be judged on how this team does as a whole rather than how much each player is making. In that regard, the Maple Leafs have some potential. If Joffrey Lupul can stay healthy, if the young goaltending tandem of Bernier and James Reimer works out, and if some of their maturing defensemen continue to take steps forwards, then Toronto could make the playoffs again this season and even make it past the first round.

That would be critical, as Nonis didn’t sign captain Dion Phaneuf or forward Phil Kessel to contract extensions over the summer, so both are still eligible to become unrestricted free agents after this season. Losing Kessel in particular would be a huge setback for the Maple Leafs as they paid dearly to get him and now rely on him heavily to lead their offense.

If they believe that the Maple Leafs under Nonis are heading in the right direction, retaining their services would be far easier. Conversely, if Toronto gets off to a rough start, then the Maple Leafs will be bombarded with trade rumors.

Either way, this season has the potential to define the Maple Leafs for years to come, and consequently shape Nonis’ tenure as well.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Jaromir Jagr leaves game with lower body injury

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Calgary Flames forward Jaromir Jagr played just four shifts on Saturday night before exiting their game against the Minnesota Wild in the first period.

The Flames later announced that Jagr would not return with what the team is calling a lower body injury.

They had no other update.

After going through the entire summer unsigned as a free agent, Jagr finally landed a one-year deal with the Flames just before the start of the season. So far he has appeared in five games for the team recording a pair of assists.

He recorded 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) while playing in all 82 games for the Florida Panthers a year ago.

Even though he appeared in every game a year ago he still showed some signs of finally starting to slow down, and you have to assume that there is going to be some sort of an injury concern for a player that is turning 46 years old in February.

Senators top Maple Leafs but lose Bobby Ryan for a month

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The Ottawa Senators’ 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night came with a price.

After the game coach Guy Boucher confirmed that veteran forward Bobby Ryan broke his right index finger during the game and is expected to miss at least the next month.

Ryan has yet to score a goal for the Senators in eight games this season but has recorded five assists.

He fought through an injury plagued season in 2016-17 that ended with one of the worst individual stat lines of his career. He was able to salvage the season however with a tremendous postseason performance that saw him finish with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 19 games as the Senators went all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals where they would lose in double overtime.

The Senators are off to a great start this season earning at least a point in seven of their first eight games (4-1-3).

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Penguins seem to have a backup goalie problem

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The Penguins worked to address one area of concern on Saturday when they acquired forward Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings.

Now they need to start working on another major area of concern — their backup goalie.

The Penguins had to know Antti Niemi was never going to step into Pittsburgh and replace what Marc-Andre Fleury gave them on the ice, but they had to be expecting a little more than what they have received thus far.

After giving up seven goals in the Penguins’ 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday night, Niemi has now given up 16 goals in 128 minutes of hockey this season. His save percentage is a brutal .797.

In games Niemi starts the Penguins are 0-3 and have been outscored 22-6, losing games by margins of 10-1 and 7-1.

In the games he hasn’t started they are 5-0-1 and have outscored their opponents 24-17.

It would be unfair to put all of the blame on Niemi, because even with regular starter Matt Murray in net they have also had stretches where they have struggled defensively and not quite played at the level they showed the past two seasons.

Niemi has also made all of his starts in the second half of back-to-back situations against teams that were not only rested the night before, but also teams that should be among the best in the league this season (the Chicago Blackhawks, two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning).

But none of that can excuse the way Niemi himself has played thus far, either. At some point you  need your goalie to make a save no matter who your team is playing or what is happening around him. His rebound control has been shaky, he looks uncomfortable when he is making saves and it is not like he is coming off of a great performance a year ago. In 42 appearances with the Dallas Stars he finished with an .892 save percentage, one of the worst marks in the league, and was at .905 the year before. He is 34 years old and has not performed at a better than league average level (or even at a league average level) in several years.

It has to be an area of concern for the Penguins because if Murray has a flaw early in his young career it is that he has missed some time due to injury. In the past they have had Fleury there to step in. They do not have that luxury now.

Niemi is only signed for one year at $700,000 so it is not like they have a huge investment in him.

If they decide to go in another direction already (they will probably give Niemi a little bit of a longer leash, I am sure) they have Tristan Jarry in the American Hockey League, or perhaps explore a trade if they are uncomfortable with such a young duo and inexperienced backup behind Murray.

Either way, it is really difficult to see them sticking around with this sort of performance from their backup for much longer.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals

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The Washington Capitals, fresh off of a 4-3 overtime win on Friday night thanks to Alex Ovechkin‘s NHL record 20th overtime goal, return home on Saturday night to host the Florida Panthers.

After winning their first two games of the season the Capitals have stumbled a little bit over the past couple of weeks winning just two of their past six games. They are looking to win consecutive games for the first time since those back-to-back wins to open the season.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are coming off of a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night that cost them goaltender Roberto Luongo who was placed on injured reserve on Saturday afternoon.

You can catch all of the action on NBCSN. Game time is 7:30 p.m. ET.

Click here to watch live.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.