The Chip ‘n’ Chase: So many bad contracts, coaches on the hot seat, the NHL in Vegas? and more!

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Every Wednesday, we publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We call it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I was just looking back at the list of free agents who signed big, long-term deals with new teams over the summer. Not many success stories, to say the least. David Clarkson and Stephen Weiss are off to terrible starts. Ryane Clowe has barely played. I guess Vincent Lecavalier’s been OK. And while I’ll concede that Valtteri Filppula and Mike Ribeiro have been decent, let’s just say I worry for the Florida Panthers when I hear their new owner saying stuff like, “We intend on being in the free-agent market in a significant way. We’re here to build a winner. … We want to patiently win now.” Vinnie Viola may have an awesome name, but I’m not positive his “patiently win now” strategy is a good one. Or even theoretically possible.

Mike Halford: I worry about this approach, too. Remember when Terry Pegula tried it in Buffalo? If you don’t, watch this video of a landfill on fire; it’s basically the same thing. Giving a general manager gobs of cash to “fix” things in free agency is like putting down your credit card at the bar — once the fun is over, all you’re left with are receipts and regret (“$27 million for Ville Leino? I did that?”) In a lot of cases, the real value in free agency is in the flawed, cheap guys that are still hanging around after the more attractive players have been signed. There’s another bar analogy I could use for this, but I won’t.

source: APJB: I just pictured Mason Raymond sitting alone on a bar stool. He looked so sad and lonely when the lights came on. Nathan Gerbe and Mike Santorelli were there too, singing a duet on karaoke. I’m not comfortable with this analogy anymore. But I will say that all three of those guys have been solid bargain pick-ups. Gerbe and Santorelli actually signed two-way deals; that’s how little leverage they had in negotiations. Of course, the problem with going after the “flawed” guys is you can totally strike out on them, and then you look like a terrible GM. Like what was Jim Rutherford thinking with Mike Komisarek? And did Mike Gillis miss the memo that Zach Hamill was a bust? You win some, you lose some. But at least with the bargain guys, your losses aren’t crippling. Here’s a question: of all the teams in the NHL, which one do you think has the worst collection of contracts?

MH: I think the obvious response is “Philadelphia,” or “the Flyers,” or “whatever team Paul Holmgren’s in charge of.” But after some serious number-crunching…yeah, it’s still the Flyers. Put it this way — there’s a spirited debate to be had over who has the worst contract in Philly. Is it six-goal man Scott Hartnell, who’s earning $4.75 million per season until 2019? Is it Niklas Grossmann, who somehow got $14 million after playing just 22 games for the Flyers? Can’t imagine anybody in Philly’s happy that Luke Schenn, who’s been a healthy scratch this season, is making $3.6 million this year… and next year… and the year after that. Oh, and we haven’t even broached the old-man Mark Streit deal yet. Or the Ilya Bryzgalov buyout. Or the…

JB: You could have a good career as a PHT commenter with that rant against Holmgren. It’s not a particularly well-paying career, but it does have dental, oddly enough. I think a lot of people would answer the Flyers to that question, but let’s be honest, they’re not the only franchise with multiple bad contracts. I’m looking at New Jersey and seeing quite a few under-performers. Ditto for Washington. You already mentioned the Sabres, though at least they have their two compliance buyouts left. Which brings us to the Leafs, who don’t have any compliance buyouts left and, in my opinion, rival the Flyers in terms of bad contracts. I already mentioned Clarkson, a 29-year-old forward with 99 career NHL goals, which doesn’t seem to mesh with that $36.75 million contract. I wouldn’t have given Tyler Bozak the money he got either. And nobody’s been willing to take John-Michael Liles off their hands. The Leafs are a bad team. They have three regulation wins in their last 21 games. Read that again. That’s awful. At this rate, I’m not sure if Randy Carlyle lasts the season.

MH: Totally agree about Carlyle; his job has to be on the line. And remember, Dave Nonis didn’t hire him. He was a Brian Burke guy. But you know what’s so typical? Both Carlyle and Jack Capuano are feeling major heat just months after getting consideration for the Jack Adams. I’ve actually been thinking more about a coach who received exactly zero Jack Adams votes last year: Claude Noel. Have you listened to this guy after the Jets lose? Might be the most critical coach in the league, and he delivers his message with the subtlety of a shovel to the face. After Tuesday’s loss in Buffalo, he accused the Jets of just showing up to play, then said “[and] we’re not good enough to play that way.” Other great moments in morale-boosting include Noel saying “it’s not like we’re world-beaters,” calling the Jets’ power-play “demoralizing,” and — here’s my favorite — lamenting the fact he doesn’t have “enough players to sit everybody.” Then there’s his relationship with Evander Kane. Put it this way — if you’re a kid and Noel and Kane are your parents, um, wouldn’t it be totally awesome to have two Christmases every year?

source:  JB: From all I’ve read, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is loathe to fire Noel. And really, at this point, the team is all but out of the playoff race. Might be best to wait until the summer if it’s going to happen. If I had to guess, Kane will be traded eventually. Might be very soon, might be a bit later. But he clearly has an issue with the organization, and I doubt the Jets are head-over-heels in love with him, talented as he may be. But there I go again, making a big deal out of some dumb picture he took in Vegas. Typical media, always trying to stir it up. So while I’m at it, I think Dustin Byfuglien could get traded too. But that’s mostly because the Jets have Jacob Trouba now. Kid’s only 19 and he’s playing 20 minutes a game. Not too shabby.

MH: You mentioned Kane in Vegas, so I gotta ask — what do you think of all this talk of the NHL expanding to Sin City? Repeat: NHL IN VEGAS. This idea is so money Kane could make 100 money phones out of it. I also enjoy that the Maloofs have been floated as potential owners. Can you even imagine? Let’s ask the Google machine what it thinks about that:

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I think the last one is my favorite.

JB: I really don’t care who owns the team. The Maloofs? Jerry Bruckheimer? Carrot Top? Sure, whatever. I just need it to happen. I can’t imagine the players would have a problem with a few road trips there either. I wonder where the visiting teams would stay. The Bellagio? Another big casino? I could see that being an issue. “He can’t play. He’s got an upper-body injury.” “Could you be more specific, coach?” “Blackjack elbow, day to day. Any other questions?”

MH: “Why are you wearing a leisure suit?”


What fantasy hockey players should be grateful for

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Ah, Thanksgiving. A time when families come together to overeat, try to ignore the more problematic elements of the holiday’s roots, watch lopsided football games, and get into arguments.

Not great, honestly, but kudos to my family specifically for at least adding pierogies to the mix.

With the American version of the holiday upon us (it’s in October in Canada … weird!), it seems wise to share gratitude for the players who are powering our fantasy hockey teams to greatness, or at least to help us avoid total mockery at the water cooler.*

Going for seconds, thirds

So far, 2017-18 has been The Year of The Top Lines. It can be seen mostly blatantly in noting that Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are battling for the top scoring spot in the NHL, while Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz are also in the top 10.

Much like the satisfaction of eating homemade sides instead of canned vegetables, the real winners have been the less-obvious members of lines who have been incredible values, and some of whom might deliver for a full season.

Schenn is an obvious example, with his 30 points in 22 games (not to mention 20 PIM and +19 rating) making him a blistering steal. His Yahoo pre-season ranking was 85th, and he likely went lower depending upon your given draft.

Sean Couturier might be the most delirious example so far, though. His yahoo ranking was 262, yet he’s ranked 18th by the same standards, as it’s clear that he’s taken the bull by the horns when it comes to getting an increased offensive role with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek on his wings. Vladislav Namestnikov has been glorious, and it sure seems likely that’ll he remain with Stamkos and Kucherov as long as he’s healthy.

Micheal Ferland might spell his name in a funny way, but you’ll make fun of him less often if he’s on your team and manages to stay with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan over the long haul.

On that note, there are still some things to sort out. Will Kyle Connor be the guy that gets to play with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele more often than not? Can the Stars get a consistent third player (aside: we need a third [blank] to go with “second banana”) to dunk in opportunities from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, at least with Alex Radulov seemingly not being the right fit?

Really, the questions about duos makes you appreciate stable trios that much more, especially if you have one or both of them on your teams. You don’t see reasonable answers to the glorious combo of the Dany Heatley – Jason Spezza – Daniel Alfredsson very often in the salary cap era, after all.

Hopefully most of those top lines can at least maintain some of this ridiculous energy, as the dog days of the season will probably cause at least some regression. Sorry, didn’t mean to ruin the holiday spirit.

Trading goods

I can’t really go too long without thanking GM David Poile and others for spicing up the season with some trades. Don’t scoff at this being mentioned in fantasy, as trades can make the process more exciting *and* create new gems.

In six games with the Nashville Predators, Kyle Turris has five points, but I’m most thankful – and intrigued – to see gains from Kevin Fiala (six points in his past five games) and Craig Smith (six in his past six). Fiala and Smith will probably be more worthy of adds in deeper leagues, but it’s a situation to watch, preferably with popcorn.

Turris could also boost guys like P.K. Subban and Roman Josi in a delightful domino effect, so again, a nod of gratitude to Poile.

Big saves

Quite a few goalies are saving their teams’ bacon (or honey-baked ham, to fit the theme?), with Corey Crawford, John Gibson, and Mike Smith coming to mind, in particular. Imagine where the Anaheim Ducks would be without Gibson?

Also: thanks to Braden Holtby, who’s navigating the Capitals’ struggles to remain the new Henrik Lundqvist as far as reliable fantasy hockey star goalies go.

Avoiding turkeys

Finally, all but one owner in each league can be happy to avoid Brent Burns, an awesome, caveman-looking scoring sensation who’s been on a puzzling scoring slump. Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good, even beyond getting a piece of those red-hot lines.

(And hey, maybe you’ll be thankful when you trade for Burns at a discount rate, only to see him bounce back?)

* – For those who grumble about this being a lame gimmick for a fantasy hockey column, allow me to respond with this hex: I hope your Crazy Uncle shares extra ridiculous, patently offensive theories this time around.

And, if *you* are in the crazy uncle role, I hope that a know-it-all nephew totally schools you, to the point that even like-minded family members are giggling at your stammering responses.

Yeah, that’s right. I went there. Maybe all the gravy is making me edgy.

Enjoy the holiday, hockey fans.

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.

The Buzzer: Golden Knights shine, gold from Subban

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Player of the Night: Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers.

It hasn’t been the easiest start to the season for Twitter legend Roberto Luongo, nor has it been for the Twitter debate generators known as the Florida Panthers.

Bobby Lou hasn’t been healthy at times, making it easy to ignore that even at 38, he’s quietly managed a save percentage that climbed to .931 after today’s outstanding performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Luongo made 43 out of 44 stops to help Florida edge Toronto in a 2-1 shootout win, to the amusingly over-the-top celebration of the Panthers, who might have done so because there were probably a ton of Maple Leafs fans in the house:

Nick Bjugstad won the game with this saucy shootout score, by the way:

Honorable mentions go to tonight’s other standout goalies, plus Nathan MacKinnon, who received plenty of praise here.

Fight of the Night: William Carrier vs. Mike Liambas.

Is it fair to call this fight “methodical but entertaining?”

Quip of the Night: P.K. Subban, always entertaining, though he should reduce the height-shaming.

Pest of the Night: Nazem Kadri?

Highlight of the Night: John Tavares continues to impose his will, this time setting up the Islanders overtime-winner:

Factoids of the Night

Another milestone for the Vegas Golden Knights, who lead the Pacific Division:

Brock Boeser is another worthy mention for player of the night, as the young Canuck keeps scoring and scoring, this time helping Vancouver beat Pittsburgh (again).

Connor McDavid continues to impress, and maybe shuts up a critic or two for one night:

The Canadiens? Well, at least they got a point.

Scores

Wild 5, Sabres 4
Oilers 6, Red Wings 2
Panthers 2, Maple Leafs 1 (SO)
Bruins 3, Devils 2 (SO)
Islanders 4, Flyers 3 (OT)
Canucks 5, Penguins 2
Capitals 5, Senators 2
Rangers 6, Hurricanes 1
Blue Jackets 1, Flames 0 (OT)
Lightning 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)
Predators 3, Canadiens 2 (SO)
Avalanche 3, Stars 0
Sharks 3, Coyotes 1
Golden Knights 4, Ducks 2
Jets 2, Kings 1

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.

Looks like Nathan MacKinnon is going from star to superstar

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Look, it’s not like Nathan MacKinnon has ever really been a “bad” player.

The Nova Scotia-born speed demon carried two 20+ goal seasons and three 50+ point campaigns into 2017-18, which in the tough-to-score NHL, is nothing to sneeze at. This is especially true since the Colorado Avalanche have frequently asked him to do a lot; Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire notes that he’s faced some of the toughest assignments of any centers in recent years.

Still, there was growing concern that the 22-year-old might not make that extra step from “star” to “superstar.” That’s especially true if his shooting skill really was an issue, as it seemed to be in three straight seasons where he shot under 10 percent (and considering his 8.4 career average).

Well, through the first quarter of this season, it seems like MacKinnon is “finally” making that next step, and making us feel silly for worrying too much about a guy who’s still just 22.

(Heck, he’s not even an old 22. MacKinnon’s birthday came on Sept. 1.)

Much like the Avalanche as a whole, MacKinnon’s gone from discouraging in 2016-17 to encouraging so far, and he’s probably the biggest reason to feel happy in Colorado … beyond the Matt Duchene headache being resolved, and depending upon your lifestyle, certain perks.

Wednesday was the latest reminder that the Avalanche aren’t mere pushovers, and that MacKinnon is making that leap we’ve been waiting for to join the best-of-the-best.

The tremendously fast, increasingly versatile center collected assists on every Avalanche goal as they beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Wednesday, improving Colorado’s record to 11-8-1. This actually makes for quite the logjam at “last” in the Central, with four teams at 23 points, and the Avs hold at least a game in hand on the Blackhawks, Stars, and Wild. They’re not far from being a wild card team, either.

Considering the fact that the Avalanche were one of the worst teams of the salary cap era last season with an almost unthinkable 46 points, and MacKinnon languished with 16 goals, this should put a big smile on GM Joe Sakic’s face.

But, again, it’s something fans of the sport as a whole should appreciate.

With tonight’s three assists, MacKinnon now has 25 points in 20 games. This places MacKinnon in a tie for 12th in the NHL in scoring with a pretty illustrious group: John Tavares, Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele.

To me, the number that’s maybe most heartening is MacKinnon’s 13.2 shooting percentage (seven goals on 53 shots on goal through 20 games).

It will be interesting to follow this specific trend over the long haul of the season, as he’s firing the puck just a little bit less often; he averages 3.08 SOG for his career according to Hockey Reference, while his current average is 2.65 this season.

That’s not a massive drop, but it’s actually quite noticeable, and you wonder if MacKinnon is being a little more selective with his shot. Again, it’s a small sample size, so we’ll see if that changes. But if MacKinnon either improves his shooting skill or simply finds a way to inch closer to the 24 goals he scored as a rookie while using his speed and smarts to be a difference-maker in every phase of the game, this could be quite the transformation.

The Avalanche probably weren’t going to complain about “the old” MacKinnon, but they should be delighted if he ends up being a truly complete star, and one who can flirt with 20-goal, 70-point seasons.

And you know what? Fans of exciting hockey should be excited about this development, too. Even if he’s using his scary speed and skill to your own team’s dismay from time to time.

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.

Point gets Lightning extra point against Kane, Blackhawks

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The Tampa Bay Lightning edged the Chicago Blackhawks – barely – on Wednesday to leapfrog back over the St. Louis Blues for the top record in the NHL.

The Bolts capitalized on a power-play opportunity in overtime, with Brayden Point scoring the decisive goal in a 3-2 OT win. It was an exciting overtime period, with Point being stopped all in alone earlier in the OT, and the same happening to Patrick Kane on a breakaway.

Kane had been getting the best of the Lightning earlier in the game, scoring the first two goals of the contest in the first period. Not a lot of players can make plays like this off the rush:

Then again, few teams can score a goal this pretty, especially while shorthanded:

Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov collected assists on Wednesday, but the top line (including Nikita Kucherov) failed to score a goal, though they created quite a few chances. The best – at least in regulation – came when Stamkos seized an opportunity against the Blackhawks, but Corey Crawford was game:

Wow.

Again, both goalies made some big stops. Here’s that Kane miss in OT, with Andrei Vasilevskiy depriving number 88 from a hat trick:

So, with that, the Lightning hold a one-point standings edge (34 to 33) over the Blues in the early race for the Presidents’ Trophy, and most importantly, gives them a five-point edge in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay’s impressive start to 2017-18 is especially notable since they’ve played one fewer game than St. Louis and two fewer than the Toronto Maple Leafs (the second-ranked team in the up-and-down Atlantic).

Check out the logjam at second-to-last in the competitive Central for Chicago, as of this writing, with these three teams all at 21 games played:

Dallas Stars: 11-9-1, 23 points
Blackhawks: 10-8-3, 23 points
Minnesota Wild: 10-8-3, 23 points

It has to be a little frustrating for the Blackhawks to see a two-goal lead dissolve, but plenty of teams would struggle to secure such an edge against the powerhouse Lightning. Maybe the Blackhawks will gain some confidence in merely sticking with them (and grabbing a point for their troubles).

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.