Patrick Sharp #10 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on in the first period of Game Three of the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on June 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
(June 3, 2013 - Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America)

On Patrick Sharp’s future in Chicago

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The Blackhawks know all about being in salary cap hell.

Following their Stanley Cup win in 2010, the club was forced to trade away a number of key contributors — Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg — as there just wasn’t enough money to go around.

Now it seems a similar situation — albeit less hellish — could be unfolding. The ‘Hawks currently sit $2.2 million over the salary cap for next season and, even after they get that number down prior to the season starting in October, they’ll face additional money concerns moving forward.

Why? The ‘Hawks made history last month by making Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane the first $10 million hits in the cap era. The financial breakdown, per CapGeek:

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As you can see, it’s a substantial financial commitment. And Chicago has more than a few of those.

Hefty deals are already in place for Corey Crawford ($6 million annually), Brent Seabrook ($5.8), Duncan Keith ($5.5), Marian Hossa ($5.275) and, of course, Patrick Sharp, who’ll pull in $5.9 million until 2017. The problem for Chicago GM Stan Bowman, though, is what’s on the horizon — the club will have just 15 players under contract for $65 million in 2015-16, and there are some big negotiations down the road. Brandon Saad, a budding star in his own right, will need a new deal after next season; same goes for versatile center Marcus Kruger and offensive defenseman Nick Leddy — all of whom are currently 24 or younger and represent a good part of the club’s future.

So, back to Sharp.

His name first surfaced as a potential trade target prior to the July 1 free agent frenzy, and we discussed the possibility of him moving to the offensively-challenged Panthers (as part of the popular Chicago-to-Florida pipeline). Florida aside, it stands to reason a number of teams would be interested in his services — at 32, he’s coming off arguably his finest individual campaign, notching a career-best 78 points while helping Canada win gold at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Sharp’s also a goalscorer, and that alone makes him a prized commodity. He’s cracked 30 in each of his last three full seasons with Chicago and has been a pretty solid playoff contributor, leading the team with 10 goals en route to the ’13 Stanley Cup. Natural scorers are hard to come by; there were only 21 guys in the NHL last year to score 30 goals or more.

That, really, is why Sharp’s name came up in discussions. Of the “expendable” assets Chicago has, he’s probably more alluring than Hossa because 1) he’s three years younger, and 2) doesn’t have Hossa’s back-diving contract structure, which could be huge in terms of cap recapture penalties. And that’s going on the assumption Hossa would even be available, which he doesn’t appear to be.

While it’s true Sharp has a modified no-trade clause, it might not be enough to keep him from moving on.

But… would Chicago actually deal him?

Make no mistake, losing Sharp would hurt. He’s been with the organization for nine years (has a local radio show and everything), serves as an alternate captain and it would be remarkably difficult to acquire equal value in any sort of trade. Like we’ve seen in the past, however, the ‘Hawks may be forced to make the hard move now for an easier financial future.

As for the man himself, Sharp was on hand for the purge of four years ago and understands how things work.

“There’s going to be talk, discussion, rumors — it’s part of the business,” he said in mid-July, per the Chicago Tribune. “But I think what my agent (Rick Curran) said was pretty self-explanatory. I’ve been able to get away from hockey and kind of relax a little bit.

“If you start worrying about it and start paying attention to all the speculation and rumors, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. It’s my job to play hockey, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Following ‘disastrous’ effort, Stars lose Honka to injury

Lindy Ruff
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Dallas only surrendered two goals in last night’s loss to Calgary — not the markings of a terrible defensive night.

But in many ways, it was exactly that.

Head coach Lindy Ruff called the second period “disastrous.” The Morning-News wrote the number of high-quality chances Dallas surrendered was “almost shocking.” And Julius Honka, one of the club’s brightest young d-man prospects, suffered an upper-body injury that will force him to miss the next few games.

Tough times in Dallas.

The Honka injury will throw the defense into further arrears. Ruff has spent most of this season juggling the group, with mainstays like Dan Hamhuis and John Klingberg getting parked in the press box as healthy scratches. Stephen Johns has been in and out — which included a stint in the American League — while the likes of Esa Lindell, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak have been platooned as well.

The Stars were forced to finish last night’s game with just five blueliners, though Honka’s injury isn’t believed to be serious. Dallas plays next on Thursday night at home against Nashville, then heads out for a back-to-back road set — Saturday in Philly, and Sunday in Chicago.

Related: What has happened to the Dallas Stars?

 

 

After a slow start, the Preds have really turned it around

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76), center, celebrates with Filip Forsberg (9), of Sweden, Kevin Fiala (56), of Switzerland, and Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, after Subban scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The Nashville Predators are still outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, but they’re very clearly putting a slow start behind them.

The Preds beat Colorado, 4-3, last night in Nashville. They are now 9-4-1 since beginning the season 3-5-3, and they are winning with the kind of puck-possession game that many expected from them.

Via Puck on Net, here are the top 10 teams in score-adjusted Corsi over the last 10 games:

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That is some excellent company the Preds are not only keeping, but leading. The Blue Jackets, right below them, are the hottest team in the NHL. The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. The Sharks won the Western Conference.

Though strong puck-possession numbers don’t always translate into wins — just ask the Carolina Hurricanes — they typically lead to good results over the long run. The one thing that can sink a strong possession team is poor goaltending, but Pekka Rinne (11-5-4, .926) has been mostly solid this season.

The Preds are also getting good production from their big offseason trade acquisition, defenseman P.K. Subban, who has 17 points, including seven goals, in 25 games.

“I just try to do my job and just keep it simple, try to put the puck on net,” Subban told The Tennessean. “Sometimes you’ve got to get some bounces, and you only get those bounces when you put pucks at the net.”

The Preds are averaging 31.6 shots per game, the sixth most in the NHL behind Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, Edmonton, and Philadelphia.

Next up for Nashville is a date with the Stars in Dallas tomorrow. That’s a huge game for both Central Division teams. The Stars lost again last night, falling 2-1 to the surging Flames.

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Report: Leafs win arbitration case with Cowen

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 21: Jared Cowen #2 of the Ottawa Senators prepares for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre on January 21, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have won their arbitration case with Jared Cowen, who will remain bought out.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the news today. It is a significant loss for Cowen, the 25-year-old defenseman who came to the Leafs in February as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade.

From Sportsnet’s story before the ruling:

At issue is whether Cowen was healthy enough to have the final year of his contract bought out by the Leafs last summer. A lengthy section of the CBA is devoted to “procedures for determining fitness to play,” and they include a player’s right to pursue a second medical opinion beyond what is provided by the team.

That information, plus witness testimony and other evidence, will be taken into account by the arbitrator while rendering a decision.

For Cowen, there is $3-million in salary at stake. That represents somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 per cent of his career NHL earnings to date – a huge amount given his injury history and diminished future earning potential.

For the Leafs, it’s significant win. They’ll actually get a $650,000 cap credit this season. Next season, they’ll take a $750,000 hit, and after that their obligations are over.

If they’d lost, they would’ve lost the credit and assumed a $3.1-million cap hit this season, the final year of Cowen’s contract.

Sportsnet explains why the Leafs didn’t want to lose:

That’s a $3.75-million cap swing in total and would almost certainly result in the Leafs invoking long-term injury relief on one of three players – Nathan Horton, Stephane Robidas or Joffrey Lupul – to remain compliant.

Even though the LTI maneuver would offer immediate relief, it’s something the Leafs hope to avoid since it would increase the size of the cap overage penalty they’ll carry into next season because of performance bonuses expected to be earned by as many as five rookies in their current lineup.

Cowen had hip surgery after he was bought out. It’s been reported he may not be ready to play until February, assuming he can find a team. He played 37 games for the Senators last season, registering no goals and four assists.

Related: Lupul to start season on injured reserve, still aims to play again

No hearing for Taylor Hall after Larsen hit

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 06:  Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils hits Philip Larsen #63 of the Vancouver Canucks in the second period on December 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Devils forward Taylor Hall will avoid supplemental discipline for his big hit on Vancouver’s Philip Larsen, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

Midway through New Jersey’s eventual 3-2 win over the Canucks, Hall caught Larsen behind the Vancouver goal with a massive bodycheck, knocking Larsen unconscious. The Danish blueliner was prone on the ice for several seconds before receiving medical attention, and was eventually stretchered off.

Hall wasn’t penalized on the play.

Larsen spent the night in a New Jersey-area hospital, per Sportsnet, and is flying to Vancouver today to meet with team doctors.

Hall said he didn’t regret throwing the hit, but felt awful about the result. He and Larsen do have a history, having briefly played together in Edmonton.

“I’m looking to make contact there, but I never want to see a guy laying on the ice there like that,” Hall said, per NJ.com. “I only know how to play the game one way, and you’ve got to play it hard. But like I said, I feel terrible.

“When you see him laying on the ice like that, he’s a former teammate of mine, and I just would have loved to make a hit there and continue the play. I hope he’s OK.”

Related: The Devils are hanging around, thanks to a great home record