The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Canada’s chances at Olympic gold, the big ice, no Giroux, and more!

14 Comments

Every Wednesday (except for the last two weeks), 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 now that all 12 of the Olympic rosters have been announced, who do you like to win gold in Sochi? I’m going completely off the board and picking Canada. I just don’t think Norway has enough depth. (Sorry Norway, truth hurts.) I do, however, think there are two things that could keep Canada from defending its title. First is goaltending, i.e. either Roberto Luongo or Carey Price don’t get the job done, or another country’s goalie catches fires, a la Dominik Hasek in Nagano. Second is what I like to call hockey being hockey. A bounce here, a bounce there. These aren’t seven-game series where there’s time for luck to even out. Put it this way — let’s say Canada has an 80 percent to win each game once it gets to the quarterfinals. (And I think that’s overly high, by the way.) Now do the math — 80 percent times 80 percent times 80 percent equals a 51 percent chance of winning all three and taking gold. You’re lost, aren’t you.

Mike Halford: Not totally lost, just trying to figure out how I ended up with Canada’s gold-medal chances at 512,000 percent. Anyway, I do get what you’re saying — one crazy play and, BOOM, tournament over. Remember Belarus over Sweden in ’02? I don’t know the odds of a 70-foot shot caroming off the goalie’s head and going in for the game-winning goal, but I assume they’re pretty low. Speaking of Sweden, the Tre Kronor are the only team close to having Canada’s “depth of talent” on defense and down the middle. I may even pick them to win gold, with goaltending being the deciding factor. I love Henrik Lundqvist in this kind of one-and-done tourney. Certainly more than I love Luongo or Price.

JB: Um, have you watched Lundqvist play this year? Something’s not right there. Otherwise I agree the Swedes have a good chance at gold, if it’s not Canada. After those two countries, I like the Americans next, then I guess the Russians. Though I might actually put the Finns and their goaltending ahead of the Russians and their star forwards. We talked about this before; I still can’t get past all the non-NHLers on Russia’s roster. Maybe I’m under-estimating the quality of the KHL? Maybe Brandon Bochenski, currently fourth in scoring in that league, is actually really good? Maybe Kyle Wilson and Nigel Dawes are really good too? All I know is it’s going to be fascinating to see how the hosts do. I think their story will be by far the most compelling to follow, win or lose. This is THE tournament for Russian stars like Alex Ovechkin. And something tells me Vladimir Putin isn’t the type to accept an excuse along the lines of, “Well, we were a bit thin on the blue line.”

source:  MH: I kinda hope Putin plays a role in the tournament, somehow. International hockey has really missed the political angle since the Cold War ended. I mean, would it be too much to ask for the FSB (successor to the KGB) to bug the Canadian dressing room? Not sure what they’d find out — “Mr. Putin, we’ve learned the Canadians intend to work hard, support the puck, and play a solid 200-foot game” — but I’d appreciate the extra effort. Anyway, let’s change the subject (before we get in trouble), because I want to talk about the snubs. Specifically, Claude Giroux. Bad enough for Flyers fans that he got left off, but then Team Canada selects Chris Kunitz? As you so eloquently put it on Twitter, that was like the apocalypse for the PHT comments section. So, question: Do you blame Canada for snubbing Giroux? For as good as he was in December, he coasted through the first two months and, lest we forget, blew off the summer orientation camp. You don’t just blow off Hockey Canada and think it’s going to forget about it. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, CLAUDE GIROUX?

JB: OK, first of all, I despise the word “snub” when it comes to situations like this. It’s not a “snub” that Giroux was left off the team. It was a decision. Will Canada regret it? Maybe, if they have trouble scoring. But I don’t think they will; I think they’ve got more than enough firepower on their roster. And while I’m at it, unlike a lot of people, I actually think the big ice could help them. I get North Americans aren’t used to it and they’re going to have to make some adjustments, but how can it be a bad thing when wizards like Sidney Crosby and John Tavares have more time and space to make plays? Don’t they always say the key to shutting down dangerous players is to take away their time and space? Similarly, I can’t wait to see Duncan Keith skating with the puck out of his own end and creating opportunities through the neutral zone. Ditto for PK Subban, if Mike Babcock uses him. This Canadian team has a ton of speed. It’s different than the previous editions that tried and failed to play the bruising, in-your-face NHL game on the big ice. This isn’t Adam Foote’s Team Canada.

MH: You know what I despise? People complaining about the use of words like “snub.” Maybe it’s not super accurate, but it’s a good word. Short and effective. Sort of like Martin St. Louis. And yes I mention him for a reason, because it’s pretty clear these are uncomfortable times in Tampa Bay after Steve Yzerman omitted (happy? I didn’t say snub) him from Team Canada. Not to be outdone, Jack Johnson is apparently choked at Todd Richards for getting left off Team USA. Make no mistake, these things can fracture relationships. Just ask Pat Quinn, who essentially torched his with Curtis Joseph by benching him in Salt Lake. This might explain why Yzerman looked so rattled during the Canadian roster announcement — it was the second time he had to tell St. Louis he wasn’t going to the Olympics.

source: Getty ImagesJB: Yeah, Johnson’s quote was sure something. “Anything that’s said now is empty and meaningless. When I needed the belief and trust, I didn’t get it, and I didn’t get it when it counted from numerous people…The team’s picked. I sat there and watched it on TV along with everybody else. That’s how I heard. From TV.” I’ll concede that Johnson shouldn’t have learned the news from TV (though at least it was NBC), but that being said, Richards’ job with USA Hockey isn’t to pump Johnson’s tires. It’s to help the country win a gold medal. Frankly, I feel a lot more sorry for St. Louis, who’s 38 and nearing the end of his career. This was probably his last chance to participate in a best-on-best international tourney. He played in the 2006 Olympics, but that was a disaster for Canada. I don’t blame him for being devastated he won’t get a shot at redemption. Especially when he got beat out by a guy like Chris Kunitz. I mean, come on.

MH: That’s some nice trolling.

Photo: Fan goes extra mile with Connor McDavid tattoo

via Connor McDavid's Instagram
7 Comments

Fan comes from the word “fanatic.” Sometimes it’s easy to forget that amid milder displays of sports interest … and then there are those times when that term almost seems insufficient.

Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid has already encountered awkward fan love in the form of that wonderful photo that went viral. That hasn’t scared him off, yet, as he praised a fan’s very detailed tattoo of McDavid via his Instagram account.

Again, the level of detail is really … something:

How about those Oiler fans… Shoutout to @kyleghostkeeper and the great work by @q_tattoos #crazy

A post shared by Connor Mcdavid (@mcdavid97) on

It’s been a busy time for McDavid, who recently posed for a photo with star Canadian athletes Eugenie Bouchard and Aaron Sanchez:

Good time yesterday with the @rogers crew! ⚾️🎾🏒 #RogersCup

A post shared by Connor Mcdavid (@mcdavid97) on

TSN has a fun cross-sports video of McDavid teaching them to shoot pucks, if you’re interested.

Predators spend big on Ryan Johansen: eight years, $64M

Getty
15 Comments

Much was made about Ryan Johansen really establishing himself as a No. 1 center who could compete with the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews during the Nashville Predators’ 2017 Stanley Cup Final run.

The Predators will pay him as such, as they announced a whopping eight-year, $64 million contract on Friday. That’s $8M per season for Johansen, who turns 25 on July 31.

It’s the largest deal signed in franchise history, although that can feel a touch misleading in how it really functions. After all, P.K. Subban‘s cap hit is higher at $9M and they once matched that massive Shea Weber offer sheet. The bottom line is that Johansen joins Subban and Pekka Rinne ($7M) as Nashville’s most expensive players.

The trio of Johansen, Filip Forsberg ($6M), and Viktor Arvidsson ($4.25M) carries a combined cap hit of $18.25 million.

News of Johansen signing a new deal first came from The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan.

Check out this post about how impressive the Predators’ salary structure looked before Johansen’s deal came down. Cap Friendly estimates that Nashville’s cap space goes down to $5.44 million after the signing, which adds some risk to this group but still looks wisely constructed overall.

The good and bad of Canadiens’ cap situation

Getty
Leave a comment

Whether you view Mark Streit as Andrei Markov’s replacement or not, the bottom line is that the Montreal Canadiens didn’t bring Markov back.

That decision closes the book on one of the Habs’ biggest mandatory decisions, though with a Cap Friendly estimate of almost $8.5 million in cap space, GM Marc Bergevin’s work may continue.

Even so, saving money on Markov seems like a decent excuse to examine the team’s salary cap situation as a whole, so let’s do just that.

A cheap, impressive group of forwards

Alex Radulov will be missed; there’s little doubting that.

Even so, handing that much term to an aging forward doesn’t seem to be Bergevin’s M.O. If nothing else, the best thing about his work is how affordable Montreal’s high-quality forwards are.

That’s especially true if Bergevin resists the urge to trade Alex Galchenyuk, who still has room to grow at 23, and who’s likely to be a bargain at $4.9 million for three seasons. Along with providing serious talent, Galchenyuk could take some of the heat off of Jonathan Drouin, who carries a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old making $5.5M through 2022-23.

Personally, those two seem like prime candidates to parallel Max Pacioretty‘s sublime steal of $4.5M, though maybe not to the same splendid degree.

Pacioretty’s contract began in 2013-14, and the fun continues until it expires after 2018-19. He’ll be 30 and a UFA by then, so that could be quite the headache for Montreal … but at least they’re enjoying huge savings before that problem comes.

And, hey, maybe it will be time for “Patches” to step into a calmer atmosphere by then, anyway …

The Habs feature two other significant forward contracts: Andrew Shaw (26 years old, $3.9M through 2021-22) and Brendan Gallagher (25, $3.75M through 2020-21). While Shaw has the rings, Gallagher is the most enticing of the two, at least as far as how high one’s ceiling can go.

A void down the middle?

Looking at shorter-term deals, Tomas Plekanec‘s $6M expiring after 2017-18 is especially fascinating.

Center is a weak spot for the Canadiens, and that could linger if Claude Julien can’t make things work with Galchenyuk and/or Drouin. Plekanec is already 34, so what would the future hold, especially if he wants something close to his current salary again?

Again, while there are certainly questions to answer, the Habs have done a commendable job putting together an affordable fleet of quality forwards.

Now to the scarier stuff.

On Aug. 16, Carey Price turns 30. The 2017-18 season represents his last at a relative bargain clip of $6.5M. After that, the Canadiens are betting big that he can remain an all-world goalie; he carries a $10.5M cap hit from 2018-19 to 2025-26. Yikes.

Oddly enough, Shea Weber‘s birthday is Aug. 14, when he’ll turn 32. Weber’s 14-year pact still has long legs, as he’ll carry a $7.857 million cap hit through 2025-26. Yikes again.

Slow burn

When it comes to the defensive side, the Canadiens might not be the most … mobile bunch, especially after parting ways with solid depth guy Nathan Beaulieu and prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

At 39, Mark Streit doesn’t exactly add fresh legs to a group that could get old in a few years. Your mileage will vary regarding how positive an impact you expect from Weber and new signing Karl Alzner. If things go awry, one would expect some serious griping about the exits of Markov, Alexei Emelin, Beaulieu, and even Sergachev.

(At least there’s Jeff Petry, who seems to gain approval from just about everyone. Just about.)

For the next three seasons, the Canadiens are on the hook for Weber, Petry, Alzner, and David Schlemko for about $20 million combined. Beginning in 2018-19, that defense and Price would cost about $30.5 million.

That combination could turn into a real problem, really fast.

***

Then again, it’s not as bad if you look at the situation in a more “instant gratification” way.

Weber still has value now, and Alzner adds experience at a reasonable age. Few coaches can optimize such a defense like Julien can, and things could really cook if Price is Price and those forwards get at least some room to breathe.

And, hey, that $8M and change could be put to interesting use. Did you hear that Jaromir Jagr wanted to be a member of the Habs not so long ago?

It’s easy to see gloom and doom in the forecast, yet for next season, the outlook is fairly sunny. Bergevin’s made his mistakes, but this should be a fascinating team to watch in 2017-18.

Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher would consider offer from Penguins

Getty
2 Comments

Instead of signing with the Colorado Avalanche – the team that drafted him – Will Butcher will reportedly test free agency starting on Aug. 15.

The Hobey Baker Award-winning defenseman would make sense for an array of NHL teams, really, with the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs mentioned among early considerations.

So, what about the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that’s lost some talent on the blueline and has enjoyed some success with NCAA products? Well, it remains to be seen if the defending repeat champions would be interested in Butcher’s services, but the defenseman’s agent told Josh Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they would certainly listen.

“If they happen to call,” Brian Bartlett said. “I’m sure we’d answer the phone.”

Mackey notes some of the successful college players the Penguins have deployed.

There’s familiarity here, too: Bartlett also represents former college players and current Penguins Bryan Rust (Notre Dame), Scott Wilson (UMass-Lowell) and Josh Archibald (Nebraska-Omaha).

Bartlett also claims that Butcher, 22, wouldn’t demand an immediate spot on an NHL roster. That’s nice to hear … although you wonder if a team offering as much would get a better chance to land him, especially since entry-level contract limits mean that a “bidding war” would come down to what team, situation, and location he’d prefer.

Considering the possibility for a nice reward and the fairly limited risk involved, plenty of teams should be interested in Butcher. It sounds like the interest would be mutual if the Penguins were one of those suitors.

One way or another, we’ll likely learn more in a bit more than two weeks.

Update: The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports that the Detroit Red Wings are interested in Butcher, too.