Before the 2013-14 campaign started, Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had taken a lot of heat for his recent performances in the playoffs. Former GM Ray Shero backed the goaltender and Fleury rewarded him with a solid showing in the 2014 postseason, even if it wasn’t enough to save the Penguins or, for that matter, Shero.
Now that Jim Rutherford has taken over as the team’s general manager, he’ll have to decide what to do with the future of the Penguins’ goaltending as the 29-year-old netminder only has one season left on his seven-year, $35 million contract.
“The one thing I’ll say about Fleury is this past season was the best season, the most consistent season he’s had over several seasons, probably over three or four seasons,” Rutherford said, per NHL.com. “Other than a couple of goals in the Columbus series, I thought his playoff series performance was fine, his regular season was fine and from an ability point of view he’s a very, very good goalie.
“Going back a couple years, I think the mental part of the game was difficult for him, and certainly it seems that whatever he did in last offseason has strengthened his position, and I see him as a guy that’ll build off of last season and be as good or better next year.”
Publicly praising one of your players is one thing, but will Rutherford throw his full support behind Fleury by inking him to a contract extension over the summer? Or would he rather wait to see how Fleury does in the 2015 playoffs before attempting to re-sign him?
One obvious factor is what Fleury will demand. He currently comes with a $5 million annual cap hit, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he seeks a raise given that he’s set to rank 14th among goalies in 2014-15 from a cap perspective and he’ll slip further once Ryan Miller signs.
The most promising element might be that the Avs seem to be a little more open-minded when it comes to the sort of return they’re expecting for the speedy forward:
I do think they are doing work on non-NHL prospects of potential trade partners — especially left-handed defenders. That might be a way to break the trade stalemate, providing Colorado’s scouts like what they see.
Getting NHL teams to shake loose quality defensemen who are already on their rosters is easier said than done, but it’s easier to sell management and fans on guys who haven’t made an impact yet.
(Although that’s not always true, of course, as sometimes people tend to inflate a prospect’s chances when their work lives largely in their imaginations.)
Really, whatever it takes to get Duchene out of his misery, what with sad-looking photo shoots and comments from Peter Forsberg/other childhood heroes.
Other NHL teams – not to mention Avs GM/other Duchene hero Joe Sakic himself – should take this as another reminder to be careful how they handle players, even if they’re shopping them. Whether it comes down to official statements or allowing things to “leak,” you can really damage a relationship if you lack a certain level of finesse.
Allow a digression: it’s difficult not to think of how the Avalanche had a falling out with Ryan O'Reilly when considering the Duchene situation. There’s the possibility that it provides a window into Duchene’s thinking.
So, in Duchene’s mind, he might have taken less money than he could have in accepting $6M per year.
Imagine, then, the frustration he felt in being a team player and then seeing his team dragging his name through the mud. Even if his take wasn’t that dramatic, the treatment came across as harsh.
Would a few early wins really smooth all of that over?
Either way, even that narrative is fading out, as the Avalanche are on a two-game losing streak to fall to a more modest 4-3-0 so far in 2017-18. That’s still a quantum leap from the historic lows they hit last season, but Duchene can be excused if he doesn’t believe that putting the team before his feelings will open the door for some deep run.
Look, it’s understandable that the Avalanche want to get a great return for Duchene. Sports are littered with quarter-on-the-dollar trade where contenders give up junk for struggling teams’ best players.
On the other hand, every now and then, the planets align for fair NHL trades. Ryan Johansen goes for Seth Jones. Brandon Saad and Artemi Panarin meet specific needs for their respective new (old-new) squads. Even Dany Heatley for Marian Hossa was pretty reasonable, considering the circumstances the then-Atlanta Thrashers were facing.
Still, trades are fun, and it’s tough not to feel a little jealous of the NBA’s frenzy, where super teams aligned and realigned seemingly on a weekly basis.
It would just be straight-up fun to see Duchene try to take the Columbus Blue Jackets to another level or make the Nashville Predators seem downright scary. One might even change Duchene’s soundtrack from Simon & Garfunkel to the theme for Dawson’s Creek in rapt anticipation.
Allow this hot take: while the wins and points are likely to dry up – to at least some extent – there’s one thing that shouldn’t go away for this edition of the Vegas Golden Knights: motivation. For better or worse, we’ve rarely seen an NHL team brimming with so many players fighting for careers, reputations, and millions of dollars.
If the bottom falls out as far as the standings go, it will still be interesting to follow these situations. Contending teams may feel the same way during the trade deadline, at least when it comes to Vegas’ many expiring contracts.
With that in mind, let’s break down this roster to examine the not-so-quiet desperation in Vegas.
If you want a quick look at how open-ended the Golden Knights’ future is at the moment, consider their spending this season vs. in the future.
By Cap Friendly’s numbers, the Golden Knights are committed to a $70.87 million cap hit in 2017-18; that number goes down to $36.92M to 14 players in 2018-19 as of this moment.
James Neal: Coming into this season, the narrative felt like a solid power forward who gets a raw deal. Early on in this franchise’s young life, he’s turned into a hero.
He has little reason to stop pushing, at least considering this fork in the road. There are millions on the table for Neal, making him a great source for bad gambling metaphors (if you’re into that kind of thing).
David Perron: In many ways, he’s a lower-profile version of Neal. They both have shown dynamic scoring ability, though sometimes they’ve been frustrating. Each forward has a lot to prove and has also been around the league quite a bit. They’ve even both been traded by the Pittsburgh Penguins. They both face crucial contract years where they can turn heads with strong seasons.
And, hey, Perron had his own hero moment for the Golden Knights last night:
Jonathan Marchessault – Currently injured, but also in a prominent spot where his next contract could vary wildly.
A slew of defensemen – The Golden Knights’ logjam on D isn’t necessarily going to last long. There are only three notable blueliners – and as you likely know, Vegas has a ton of them – with more than one year on their deals: Nate Schmidt, Griffin Reinhart, and Brad Hunt.
The likes of Jason Garrison and Luca Sbisa have seen better days. Even so, maybe the fear of a dull free agent market and/or getting benched for one of Gerard Gallant’s many other options will push their “compete levels” to new heights?
Something to prove
Speaking of Gallant, there’s little doubt that he likely has a chip on his shoulder stemming from the way things ended with the Florida Panthers.
He has quite the opportunity on his hands: a relatively competent roster for an expansion team, yet he’s also graded on a curve because this is an expansion team. Has Gallant already locked up at least some top-five Jack Adams votes?
Goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban – Both being on two-year deals provides some inherent motivation, but even considering their very different careers up to this point (“MAF” has more Stanley Cup rings  than Subban has NHL wins ), they each likely have some fire in their bellies.
“The Flower” handled the end of his Pittsburgh Penguins days with incredible grace. You have to think that he wants to prove that they made the wrong choice, or at least that he still “has it.”
Vadim Shipachyov – He didn’t just have to wait until age 30 for his first crack at the NHL. Due to the multitude of defensemen, “The Ship” also had to wait to make an impression in Vegas. Expect him to make up for lost time.
Reilly Smith – There are players who were claimed with things to prove even with relative comfort in Vegas; Cody Eakin probably feels insulted by the Stars exposing him to the expansion draft.
Smith is a rare case of a quality everyday NHL player who was just given away in a trade. The Panthers didn’t need to give up both Smith and Marchessault, but they did. That should give him at least a short-term boost, right?
The weird mascot: You think that “Chance” the Gila Monster hasn’t seen your disparaging tweets?
Look, ignore the hot takes. Most professional athletes care deeply and work hard. Sidney Crosby‘s future has been set since day one, and yet look at how he attacks a meaningless training moment with Brad Marchand:
When Jamie Benn met Kendall Murray after Saturday’s morning skate, he left her with the promise that he would score that night against the Colorado Avalanche.
Eight months ago, the idea of Murray standing there as the Stars captain made that promise seemed unbelievable.
On Feb. 10, Murray, 16, was the sole survivor of a car accident in Plano, Texas that killed two of her friends, Lilly Davis and Sam Sacks. She was burned on 25 percent of her body, and some of her injuries included two broken arms, a broken pelvis and a skull fracture.
Two months later, as Murray lay in her hospital bed at Medical City Plano still unable to walk, Benn and Tyler Seguin, her two favorite players, made a surprise visit. The news about the accident had reached the Stars organization and the players jumped at the opportunity to stop by and say hello.
The smile on her face as she saw who was walking into her room was one that those inside will never forget. The running joke throughout the 45-minute visit was that everyone could tell when Murray was getting excited because her heart-rate monitor would spike.
“When those two walked in, it just shot up to 170,” Murray told Pro Hockey Talk Tuesday afternoon with a laugh.
Before Benn and Seguin said their goodbyes, they told Murray they wanted to see her at American Airlines Center this season once she was back on her feet and walking again. The day before that visit she had started the process of learning to walk again, a she would ultimately accomplish.
Not long before Benn made his promise, Murray fulfilled hers by walking around arena during Saturday’s morning skate. There she saw Seguin again and got to chat with Stars general manager Jim Nill. She later would meet up with Benn when her told her his plans for the game.
“I’ll score for you. I’ll make sure it’s for you.”
In the opening minute of the second period, Benn delivered on his promise, with Murray’s other favorite Star playing a role in the game’s first goal. After an Avalanche turnover in the neutral zone, Seguin fired a pass off the side boards which was picked by Benn at center ice leading to a 2-on-1. Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson gave the captain enough space for him to then fire a wrist shot blocker side on Semyon Varlamov.
Murray, wearing her dad’s Neal Broten Minnesota North Stars jersey, watched in disbelief.
“I was like ‘Oh my God, he did it,’” Murray said, “That’s actually for me and I knew that it was for me. It was so crazy. It was the first goal, too. It made the Stars be ahead in the game which was awesome.”
To top off an already memorable day, Seguin would score at the end of the second period to give the Stars a 2-0 lead. He would later complete a Gordie Howe Hat Trick after scrapping with Patrik Nemeth in the third period. The pucks from both goals were retrieved and given to Murray as a gift from the players after the game.
“That was just icing on the cake. Great to have both of them score and have Tyler get in his first NHL fight,” Murray said. “Quite a game to watch.”
The Murray family attends a handful of Stars games every season and will also be in attendance for a December game in Minnesota against the Wild while in town visiting family. Given that Benn is 100 percent in goal promises, he may have to make a few more to Kendall this season. Or at least Seguin could get in on the fun, too.
Eight months after the accident, Murray is doing well. A junior in high school, she’s back in regular classes with her friends and even attended homecoming last month. Twice a week she’s in occupational therapy and physical therapy and seeing progress. The tear in her carotid artery is fully healed and nerve damage in her hand is slowly improving. At the end of October she’ll be discharged from PT, marking another milestone on her journey to full recovery.
“I’m coming down to the end of it all which is nice so I can get back to my normal high school life,” she said.
Give the St. Louis Blues a lot of credit. Lesser teams might have buckled after a disturbing run of training camp/summer injuries. Instead, St. Louis won four straight to start the season, with three of those games coming on the road.
Maybe the Blues were starting to buckle under the pressure a bit lately, though, as they dropped two straight games to fall to 4-2-0.
The bad news is that there might not be many reinforcements coming anytime soon. The good news is that one key guy is returning against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight, as Alexander Steen has been activated from IR.
Steen, 33, broke his hand during training camp. It’s been a tough haul lately for the two-way forward in general, really, as he had suffered through a broken foot during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Even if he’s not quite 100 percent yet, the Blues welcome back a 50+ point player who isn’t that far removed from two 60+ point seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Wed, Oct 18 vs Chicago
Thu, Oct 19 @ Colorado
Sat, Oct 21 @ Vegas
Wed, Oct 25 vs Calgary
Fri, Oct 27 @ Carolina
They’ll get a reward starting on Oct. 28: four games in a row and six of seven at home.
Even by the end of October, it’s unclear how many players the Blues will get back from injury. They’ll just need to savor the breaks that do go their way, and in this case of Steen, this is a pretty nice one.