Under Pressure: Mike Richards

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Los Angeles Kings, we pick … center Mike Richards.

Sometimes a player is judged based on more than just the goals, assists and points he puts up. Even beyond the simplest numbers, there are facts and figures that matter more and more when it comes to forming opinions, and few things can drive feedback down quite like an athlete whose play doesn’t seem to match his pay. Much like Roberto Luongo (during his time with Vancouver in particular), Richards’ contract carries an expensive price tag ($5.75 million per season for a guy seemingly penciled-in for the third line?) and scary term (the deal expires after 2019-20), thus inspiring terms like “anchor” and “albatross.”

The defending champions are designed so near-immaculately that the 29-year-old’s deal sticks out like a sore thumb; add that to the a rejected opportunity to get out of it and every underwhelming Richards shift will only frustrate a subset of fans that much more.

With all apologies to Jonathan Quick (the other Kings player with a polarizing contract) and Justin Williams (a guy who might get squeezed out after this upcoming contract year), Richards is an easy choice for this feature.

The uncomfortable thing is that he’s highly unlikely to impress anyone expecting the 70+ point production of his peak years in 2007-08 (75 points) and 2008-09 (80). Really, his best chance of appeasing anyone is to appeal to hardcore fans and/or those who are more likely to empathize with his challenging situation.

Ideally, he can at least be more of an asset as a defensive forward with some upside. As this intensive study at Jewels from the Crown shows, his underlying numbers aren’t as bad as you might think when placed in the proper perspective, so maybe it’s a matter of adjusting expectations.

People forget that the Kings would have to pay Richards plus another player to take his place, so a buyout isn’t as cut-and-dried as it may seem. Still, it’s simply more fun to hammer on this situation in the simplest of terms.

As far as his team is concerned, Richards can be useful if he ups his offensive production a bit and continues to carry a heavy defensive workload for the Kings. Will he be valuable enough to justify that $5.75 million? It’s difficult to imagine such a scenario, which might miss the point.

That said, more than a few people will expect more than what Richards is probably capable of providing, so expect him to be in some high-pressure situations next season.

Looking to make the leap: Pierre-Luc Dubois

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Columbus surprised people when they took Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Now Dubois is tasked with showing that they made the right call.

While Puljujarvi did get his first taste of the NHL last season with Edmonton, Dubois spent the full campaign in the QMJHL. However, Dubois is entering training camp with a real shot of landing a job with Columbus.

His versatility should work in his favor throughout his battle for a roster spot. Dubois is capable of serving as a winger or center and while he’s offensively gifted, he’s also a physical force.

It doesn’t hurt that he took his additional season at the junior level as a learning experience. He was able to play a full campaign at center and work on his positioning. He was also dealt from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada during the season, which gave him the benefit of experiencing a different system.

“It was a little more of a defensive (style),” Dubois said of Blainville-Boisbriand’s system, per NHL.com. “That’s how we won our games, by scores of 2-1. It was a more pro-style game. I learned a lot from that.”

All that being said, he still has an uphill battle ahead of him. There’s a potential opening for him, but it’s not a given that he’ll secure that job and even if he does get a chance with Columbus, he’ll have to work hard to make his stint with them be more than just a nine-game trial.

The 19-year-old can’t play in the AHL yet either, so if he doesn’t find a role with the Blue Jackets then he’ll have to play in the QMJHL again. By contrast, Puljujarvi was able to be sent to the AHL last season and if he doesn’t play for Edmonton in 207-18 then he’ll at least be able to get ice time against men in the minors.

When PHT asked the question last year if the Blue Jackets were right in selecting Dubois over Puljujarvi roughly two-thirds of voters said no. Perhaps Dubois will be able to change some minds this season.

Related: Getting sent to junior made Blue Jackets prospect Dubois a ‘more mature’ player

Callahan (hip) will be fine for start of training camp

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Ryan Callahan could only play in 18 games last season and underwent two hip surgeries, but perhaps 2017-18 will be different. The news is certainly good so far.

“I’m full go, right from Day One,” Callahan told the NHL.com. “It’s going to be nice to be able to do a hard training camp this year.”

His statement was reinforced by the fact that he participated in the first day of voluntary workouts on Monday.

Tampa Bay signed him to a six-year, $34.8 million contract in the summer of 2014 and while he was great for the first year of the deal, he declined in 2015-16 and then of course barely played last season. That’s led to concerns that the 32-year-old’s contract might prove to be disastrous in its back half.

“I know there’s chatter and people doubt me — if I can come back and what I’ll be like when I come back,” Callahan said. “I’ve always tried to use it as motivation. That’s how they propelled me to the place I am right now in my career. I’m looking at this the same way. I’m excited to get going this year. I think it’s going to be one of the best years I’ve ever had.”

Tampa Bay could certainly use the help. The Lightning fell short of the playoffs last season, but also missed Steven Stamkos for much of the campaign as well as Callahan. If those two stay healthy and if Callahan bounces back then Tampa Bay could be one of the major contenders in 2017-18.

Report: Flames might have interest in Jagr

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We’re mere weeks away from the start of training camp, but Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned. Even at the age of 45 he can still contribute as he did last season with Florida, but is there a team out there that ultimately will pay the future Hall of Famer to extend his NHL career?

That remains to be seen, but it sounds like there is some interest out there for his services.

“I know some teams that have kind of talked and taken a look at it,” said Elliotte Friedman on the NHL Network (H/T to FanRag Sports). “I think Calgary has been one that has kind of looked at it. One of his former coaches, Glen Gulutzan, is coaching up there.”

Friedman also heard teams suggesting that Anaheim might be interested in Jagr, but based on his own investigation that doesn’t appear to be the case. Ultimately Jagr might end up starting the season in the Czech Republic and would have the option of playing in the Olympics if that happens, but even if he does begin the year in Europe, he could still re-sign with an NHL squad later on in the 2017-18 campaign.

Jagr is the second all-time player in terms of total points and third in goals behind Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. If he did play another season, the main statistical achievement that he could chase would be fourth place on the assists list as he’s 20 behind Ray Bourque.

He finished the 2016-17 campaign with 16 goals and 46 points in 82 contests.

Related: The case for Hurricanes signing Jaromir Jagr

Under Pressure: Ryan Murray

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

The Blue Jackets were naturally hoping for great things when they took Ryan Murray with the second overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but he’ll turn 24-years-old in September and so far he hasn’t consistently lived up to those early expectations.

To be sure, he’s had some bad luck along the way. He suffered a torn labrum while playing in the juniors during the 2012-13 campaign and in the years that’s followed he’s been limited at times by knee and ankle problems. Most recently he missed the last 15 games of the regular season and the Jackets’ playoff run due to a broken hand.

Injuries haven’t been Murray’s only issue though. While they’ve resulted in setbacks along the way, when he was healthy last season he still wasn’t living up to expectations. Seth Jones, David Savard, Jack Johnson, and rookie phenom Zach Werenski served as Columbus’ defensive core while Murray was relegated to more of a supporting role.

That top-four core isn’t particularly old either as Johnson is the most senior member at the age of 30. Johnson is on the final season of his contract, but unless the Blue Jackets can’t re-sign him, Murray has no simple path back into prominence. He’ll have to get there through merit alone and he’ll want to demonstrate his ability to do so this season given that he’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2018.

“It’s a big summer for Ryan; for him and for us,” Blue Jackets president John Davidson noted to the Columbus Dispatch in April. “He knows it. We’ve had good talks with him. He’s had good talks with our strength and conditioning people, our doctors.

“He’s a good hockey player, and we’ve seen some good things from him. He’s had bad injury luck without question, but he’s going to overcome that. He’s at the age now where he’s not a young pup.”

Players at his age are still typically regarded as having upside, but also beginning to transition away from the point where they’re regarded as prospects. There won’t be many more years where Murray will be looked at as a potential top defenseman if he doesn’t force himself into that role soon.