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?”


PHT Morning Skate: McAvoy needs to step up; 2018 mock draft

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Keelan Moxley (the young girl that Brett Connolly had a hard time getting a puck to last week) finally got to meet the Capitals forward. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• Overtimes between the Capitals and Blue Jackets have made this series exciting, but it’s starting to take a toll on players and fans, too. (The Hockey Writers)

• Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy needs to find a way to be more involved in this first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. (WEEI)

• There’s a few reasons why the Winnipeg Jets managed to dispose of the Minnesota Wild in five games. Their play on home ice and Connor Hellebuyck are right at the top of the list. (NHL.com)

• Now that Tomas Hertl is completely healthy, the Sharks are expecting him to take his game up another notch. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Even though the second round is on the verge of beginning, the Vegas Golden Knights are as healthy as they’ve ever been. (SinBin.Vegas)

Andrei Vasilevskiy is a man of few words, but he made quite the statement in Tampa’s first-round series against the New Jersey Devils. (Tampa Bay Times)

• NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke discussed the challenges and next steps his group has to undertake in order to get a team running by 2020-21. (MyNorthWest.com)

• Finding a general manager might not be so easy for the Carolina Hurricanes, but Rod Bring’Amour is definitely willing to serve as a head coach. (Raleigh News & Observer)

• The St. Louis Blues invited their season ticket holders to paint the ice, so one fan took the opportunity to mock a controversial offside decision. (The Sports Daily)

• Blackhawks forward Anthony Duclair reached out to a youth hockey player in Nova Scotia that was the victim of a racial slur. (Chicago Sun-Times)

• The Sporting News came up with a first-round mock draft for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. There’s no surprise at no. 1, as Rasmus Dahlin is the pick, but things get interesting after that. (Sporting News)

• Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper has added the Golden Knights’ logo to the end of his bats. (Sports Logos)

• Ellen DeGeneres paid tribute to the victims of the tragedy in Humboldt at an event in Calgary last week. (CBC)

• Boston University head coach David Quinn will serve as the bench boss for Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championship next December. (College Hockey News)

• One year after leaving the NHL, Andrei Markov took home the KHL’s Gagarin Cup with AK Bars Kazan. (Associated Press)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Penguins, Predators advance; West second round set

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2017 Stanley Cup Finalists move on

Penguins 8, Flyers 5 (Penguins win series 4-2)

Despite Evgeni Malkin missing Game 6 and Sean Couturier playing through a torn MCL, these two teams still provided plenty of fireworks including big goal totals, some controversial/nasty moments, and ultimately the end of the series. Jake Guentzel ended up scoring four consecutive goals to erase the Flyers’ lead and then give the Penguins enough of a cushion to close things out.

After beating their in-state rivals, the Penguins await another familiar foe, whether that ends up being the Blue Jackets or the Capitals. The Penguins have to breathe a sigh of relief that they avoided a Game 7, as that was far from a foregone conclusion for much of Sunday (despite the odd final score).

See for yourself:

Predators 5, Avalanche 0 (Predators win series 4-2)

While there was plenty of drama before the Penguins advanced, the Predators turned Game 6 into a formality pretty early on. Former Penguins forward Nick Bonino scored a goal and two assists, Austin Watson continued his strong postseason, and some usual suspects (Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson) put the game out of reach. Pekka Rinne only needed to make 22 saves to earn a shutout.

Read more about Nashville’s Game 6 win here.

West second round is set:

Nashville Predators [Central first seed] vs. Winnipeg Jets [Central second]

Vegas Golden Knights [Pacific first seed] vs. San Jose Sharks [Pacific third]

PHT will provide schedule and TV information when it becomes available.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins – At one point, the Flyers were up 4-2 during the second period. Patric Hornqvist made it 4-3, then Guentzel went on a dizzying tear where he scored four unanswered goals. Guentzel also grabbed an assist on that Hornqvist goal, so the 23-year-old generated four goals and one assist to help Pittsburgh advance (and thus avoid a Game 7 against Philly). He was a +5 in Game 6, too.

Guentzel’s clutch credentials continue to climb; he now has 19 goals and 34 points in just 31 career playoff games. Wow.

2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers – You could make a very strong argument that Couturier deserves the first star, but the tie goes to the runner/guy whose team won. If the regular season didn’t serve as a convincing coronation for Couturier to go from a very good player to a bonafide star, then this postseason should remove any doubt.

Generating a hat trick and two assists with your team’s season on the line is already a ridiculous accomplishment. To do so with a torn-up knee is jaw-dropping. And, hey, Couturier drew penalties, and probably should have drawn another one on what ended up being Guentzel’s game-winner:

3. Nick Bonino, Nashville Predators – Sidney Crosby deserves an honorable mention, as both Crosby and Bonino generated one-goal, two-assist games in helping their teams advance to the second round.

Bonino collected assists on the first two goals for Nashville, then he found the net for his first goal of the night/second tally of the series. This marks the first three-point game of Bonino’s postseason career, which is really something considering how much success he enjoyed with Crosby, Guentzel, and the Penguins during his two Cup runs with Pittsburgh.

Factoids

Guentzel’s night was special in many ways. Here’s one historical angle:

The Predators aren’t the only team going for their first Stanley Cup. But you already knew the Golden Knights haven’t won one yet, of course:

Monday’s games

Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (CNBC)

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.

Predators hammer Hammond, close out Avalanche

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Andrew Hammond hamburgled a Game 5 win for the Colorado Avalanche, but the Nashville Predators ended Colorado’s Cinderella season in rancid way by a score of 5-0 on Sunday.

The Presidents’ Trophy winners flexed their muscles in Game 6, and it must be a huge relief to avoid a Game 7. That’s especially true since the scary-good Winnipeg Jets await them in the second round as a rested bunch.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Early on in Game 6, a toss-up of a goalie interference call didn’t go Nashville’s way. That ended up being a mere footnote, however, as Mattias Ekholm made it 1-0 about 16 seconds later. Ekholm’s goal ended up standing as the game-winner, though the Predators eliminated any doubt about the outcome pretty quickly on Sunday.

After channeling the magic of his “Hamburglar” run with Ottawa in 2014-15 thanks to a 44-save performance in Game 5, Hammond suffered in Game 6. The journeyman goalie might lose some sleep over some of the Predators’ goals, including a deflating 3-0 tally by Filip Forsberg.

Credit the Avalanche for making the Predators sweat overall, even if Nashville made things look pretty easy in Game 6.

It would have been prettier for Nashville to dispatch Colorado casually via a sweep or a quick five-game series, but the Predators may get some value from being tested. They also won games in different ways:

  • Nashville advanced despite a disappointing showing from its second line, with Kyle Turris (just one assist in six games) and Kevin Fiala (one goal, one assist in series) being especially quiet. That’s mostly a bad thing, but it also shows that the team can withstand a cold spell from some notable players.
  • The Predators enjoyed some strong work from supporting cast members including Austin Watson and Colton Sissons. Both players generated at least a point-per-game against the Avs, with Watson contributing four goals (including a key tally in Game 6). Nick Bonino was also fantastic in support for Nashville, generating his first three-point playoff game with a goal and two assists. Depth is a calling card for the Predators, and that came through in the first round, although the specific supporting cast standouts might surprise some.
  • Pekka Rinne experienced ups and downs, yet he seems to be heating up lately.

While the Avalanche’s season ended with a whimper in Game 6, they gave the Predators a tougher fight than many expected. There’s a lot of room to improve, but this scrappy bunch has something to build on during the summer.

That said, the Predators showed their higher gear during the last two games in particular, and Hammond could only steal one game for the Avs.

This was a solid squabble to warm Nashville up for the postseason, but the Predators will need to play at a very high level if they want to cool the Jets. After holding off the underdog Avs, the Preds must steel themselves for a heavyweight bout against Winnipeg.

It should be fun … at least for those of us who get to watch. For those on the ice, the second round is expected to feel more like the main event.

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.

Flyers’ once-deadly power play wilted against Penguins

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No doubt about it, Flyers fans have a beef about the goal that really set the stage for the Penguins to put Game 6 – and the series – out of reach on Sunday.

Perhaps Sean Couturier would have received an embellishment infraction during the exchange, but either way, it sure seemed like Kris Letang took another penalty on Couturier just moments after leaving the penalty box for a different infraction. No call was made, and just moments later, Jake Guentzel scored to push the score to 6-4.

Things got weird after that as the Penguins eliminated the Flyers via an 8-5 score in Game 6, but plenty of Philly fans probably wonder “What if?” on that goal. Flyers players seem to agree that Letang deserved a penalty.

You can debate that call and different breaking points until you’re blue in the face, but the real “What if?” question might revolve around special teams. To be specific, the Flyers’ power play really let them down in that just-expired series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Flyers were held without a power-play goal in five of the six games during this series. The lone exception was Game 2, when the Flyers went 2-for-3 in a 5-1 win.

Philly went 2-for-21 overall during the series, generating a pitiful power-play percentage of 9.5. Only the Kings and Golden Knights were less productive with the man advantage, and that was during a skin-tight four-game sweep where goals were incredibly hard to come by (that series featured 10 goals total, three fewer than the Flyers and Penguins scored in Game 6 alone).

It’s especially remarkable that the Flyers also went 0-for-13 on the power play at home during this series. With their season on the line, that unit only managed two power-play shots on goal in three opportunities in Game 6, looking especially indecisive despite also receiving a 4-on-3 opportunity.

Now, heading into this series, the Penguins were expected to hold an advantage on special teams because of what could be a historically potent PP unit of their own. Still, it’s troubling that the Flyers rarely exploited what was a far from spectacular Penguins penalty kill. Pittsburgh’s PK unit was in the bottom third of the NHL percentage-wise since February, setting the stage for two strong power plays to trade blows. That didn’t happen as much as expected, with the Flyers’ failures ending up being fatal.

A question of personnel?

If you want to point to one factor, ponder Wayne Simmonds‘ lack of involvement.

The fantastic front-of-the-net presence implied that he might be undergoing surgery soon, which probably explains both his limited usage and limited production. Simmonds failed to score a single goal during this series, finishing with two assists in six games.

(Strangely, that matches his production from his last playoff appearance in 2015-16: zero goals, two assists in six games.)

Blame it on struggles or a lack of health, but either way, the Flyers were turning to different players when a man up.

It’s no surprise to see big PP TOI numbers for Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Shayne Gostisbehere. The notable swap is Nolan Patrick, who joins those Flyers in the four minutes per game range, while Simmonds was only logging about two minutes per night.

Patrick has come a long way as his rookie season goes along, yet Simmonds is one of the NHL’s true wizards in the dirty areas right in front of the net. Simmonds has generated at least 11 power-play goals for five straight seasons with the Flyers for a reason.

Would things have been different if Simmonds was truly healthy? It’s a fair question, but you also wonder if the Flyers didn’t make enough adjustments to get their once-potent power play back on track.

***

In looking back at this series, the Flyers will certainly want to solidify their goalie situation, a seemingly eternal conundrum for this franchise.

Sometimes it comes down to getting the right players and goalies in place, something that GM Ron Hextall must wrestle with during the summer. Still, there are also questions about putting the right players in the right situations, and in many cases that comes down to coaching.

Ultimately, a lukewarm power play hurt the Flyers’ chances of trading haymakers with the prolific Penguins. Maybe it’s a mere matter of small sample sizes, yet Philly’s failings in that area should at least prompt some soul-searching over the summer.

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.