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?”


Calgary Hitmen fans make 24K stuffed animals fly during Teddy Bear Toss (Video)

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Congratulations, Vladislav Yeryomenko, you were this year’s Teddy Bear Toss goal scorer for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

Yeryomenko’s goal at 9:36 of the first period during their game Sunday vs. the Moose Jaw Warriors was the sign for Hitmen fans to launch their teddy bears inside the Saddledome. Boy, it sure did rain plenty of fur.

Here’s what it looked like:

And here’s a fan’s eye view:

After a clean up delay of approximately 40 minutes , the game resumed but the Hitmen would fall to the Warriors 6-3. The counting, as you would imagine, took some time, but when they were finished it was announced that an astounding 24,605 stuffed animals were collected, which will go to 60 local charities.

“It’s an unforgettable moment,” Yeryomenko said via the Hitmen website. “It’s possible it can only happen once in your life and it happened to me. I enjoyed the moment of it all.”

There were 23,924 stuffed animals tossed during last year’s game, and the Hitmen hold the record of 28,815 bears, which was set in 2015.

The Hitmen have been holding this event since 1995 and are their fans are the true leaders in tossing those bears. Including this Sunday’s total, the team has collected 347,948 stuffed animals for local charities. Just last weekend the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears held their Toss event and fans there set a team record with an impressive 25,017 stuffed animals hitting the ice.

This once again proves that the Teddy Bear Toss is the greatest promotion in all of sports.

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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.

Brayden Schenn scoring at will as domination continues

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What’s the limit for Brayden Schenn?

Curious and inquiring minds, like PHT’s own James O’Brien, want to know. 

Add Schenn’s opposition to the list of people looking for answers. They surely want the madness to end.

But Schenn appears disinterested in letting cooler heads prevail. He is, of course, red hot at the moment. And he’s quickly turning into a fearsome goal scorer that is increasingly harder to contain.

Schenn buried his 16th of the season on Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres some 40 seconds into the game. The goal, which can be seen below, was Schenn’s sixth in his past four games and a marker than extended his goal-scoring streak to four games.

Some wondered how Schenn would cope with the loss of Jaden Schwartz, who is out for at least six weeks because of an ankle injury. 

He answered that in under a minute.

Coming into Sunday’s game, Schenn was on pace for 41 goals and 98 points. He’d crush his previous career highs if his torrid play continues.

For the time being, Schenn is the leading candidate for the top off-season acquisition in the NHL.

How bad is Ron Hextall kicking himself at the moment? A few months ago he had Schenn and didn’t have Jori Lehtera.

The cringe faces must be excellent. Surely.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Marc-Andre Fleury set for return after getting taken off IR

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The Vegas Golden Knights have their starting goaltender back.

After nearly two months and 25 missed games, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his return to the lineup on Tuesday after being pulled off injured reserve on Sunday.

Fleury hasn’t played since Oct. 13 when Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha collided with the 33-year-old as he drove to the net. Fleury was shaken up on the play but saw it through, picking up his first loss of the season after allowing six goals on 27 shots.

Fleury was solid in the crease in the four games he figured into, going 3-1-0 with a .925 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average.

Since he went down, the Golden Knights have had four other netminders see the crease after injuries ran rampant through their goaltending stable.

Their combined record, despite a clear lacking of NHL experience, has been remarkable:

  • Malcolm Subban – 10 GP, 7-2-0, .924 save percentage
  • Maxime Lagace – 14 GP, 6-6-1, .872 save percentage
  • Oscar Dansk – 4 GP, 3-0-0, .946 save percentage
  • Dylan Ferguson – 1 GP, 0-0-0, .500 save percentage

Remember when Subban was claimed off waivers on the eve of the start of the regular season? Quite the steal.

That adds up to a 16-8-1 record with Fleury out of the lineup, which is incredible given how banged up Vegas got between the pipes.

The Golden Knights are on a four-game heater at the moment, and with Subban playing admirably — winning his past three starts — it remains to be seen if Fleury takes the crease on Tuesday.

If not Tuesday, Fleury is surely a lock to get the start against his former team. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to town on Thursday.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jaden Schwartz’s ankle injury derails career-year pace

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Jaden Schwartz was on pace to flirt with a triple-digit point total this season.

‘Was’ is the keyword here because, for the second time in three years, Schwartz will miss a significant chunk of time with an ankle injury.

How long he will be on the shelf this time around is undetermined, but Schwartz won’t be evaluated for six weeks after blocking a shot off his right ankle in a 6-1 rout of the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

The injury bug hasn’t been kind to Schwartz’s ankles. During the 2015-16 season, he was limited to just 33 games after sustaining a broken ankle in practice.

The fresh diagnosis is a frustrating blow for Schwartz and the Blues, who have watched his line with Brayden Schenn and Alexander Steen turn into one of the top trios in the NHL this season.

Through 30 games, the 25-year-old had 14 goals and 35 points, placing him second on the Blues, behind Schenn, and ninth in league-wide scoring, tied with Connor McDavid.

At his current pace, Schwartz, playing roughly 20 minutes a night, would have hit 98 points. And a little lucky bounce or two here and there might have propelled him above the century mark, setting career highs along the way.

For the Blues, dealing with devastating injuries is all-to-familiar this season.

But what’s probably most impressive about how successful the Blues have been this season is how they’ve been able to exceed all reasonable expectations despite dealing with a hefty number of major ailments.

The injury bug has been more akin to a foul beast in the Gateway to the West. From Robby Fabbri gone for the season with a torn ACL and Zach Sanford sidelined for months with a shoulder problem to Jay Bouwmeester missing 20 games to start the year and Steen missing the first six.

Not many predicted the Blues to be where they are in mid-December: second place the Western Conference standings with 42 points, just two back of top spot in the league.

And now the Blues, in the midst of a three-game winning streak, will have to navigate another injury to a key piece of their lineup.

They’ve shown the ability to overcome injury adversity before, but losing a key piece of your top six and a top scorer is never easy.

If anyone has the formula down, however, it’s the Bluenotes.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck