Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils

Under Pressure: In Washington? Take your pick

26 Comments

Sometimes, you just can’t choose one.

Especially when picking which Capital faces the most pressure this season. Few teams head into the 2014-15 campaign more dramatically altered; after missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, both the coach (Adam Oates) and GM (George McPhee) were turfed in a significant organizational overhaul. The goal, clearly, was to re-tool a group who’s Stanley Cup window is still (theoretically) open, because that’s what you do when you have a three-time MVP — Alex Ovechkin — in the prime of his career.

So yeah. Pressure abounds.

We’ll start with Ovechkin, who’s coming off a truly bizarre campaign. He was the only player in the NHL to eclipse the 50-goal plateau last season, but also the owner of the league’s third-worst plus-minus rating (minus-35) and, as such, was subjected to scathing, relentless criticism of his defensive play and leadership abilities. There’s no need to go into great detail here as the knocks on Ovechkin are well known; it’s fair to say he exists in a constant state of pressure.

In goal, there’s Braden Holtby. Two years ago, the untested youngster burst onto the scene as a media darling, leading Washington to an upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in the opening playoff round. Despite getting pelted by shots (248 over the seven game series), Holtby finished with a .940 save percentage, then nearly helped the Caps topple the Rangers in Round 2 and looked to be Washington’s goalie of the future… but that narrative was interrupted last season, when Holtby couldn’t find his game, lost playing opportunities and acknowledged he struggled with his confidence.

Behind the bench, there’s Barry Trotz. All he needs to do in his first year as coach — after spending the last 15 seasons in Nashville — is have Caps do a virtual 180, instill his defensive philosophies and try to coax another level out of Ovechkin (who, it’s worth noting, is now on his fifth head coach.)

How about those free agents? Those would be former Penguins defensemen Matt Niksanen and Brooks Orpik, both of whom signed mega-deals with Washington this summer. Niskanen, who’d never made more than $2.3 million in a single season, inked for a whopping $40.25M over seven years while Orpik, who turns 34 in September, signed for $27.5 million over five years… a deal that Trotz later admitted the Caps “took some heat” over.

(You could argue pressure from these deals should get kicked upstairs, and land on the desk of new GM Brian MacLellan. And you’d be making a legit argument if you did.)

The list goes on and on. Brooks Laich, who’s name was floated as a potential buyout candidate this summer, is under pressure to finally get healthy and justify his place as Washington’s third highest-paid forward behind Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Two-time Norris finalists Mike Green’s under pressure to perform in a contract year. There’s a lot riding on Evgeni Kuznetsov to make good on the hype and produce in his first full NHL campaign and, heck, there’s probably some pressure on Tom Wilson to improve on last year’s decent rookie campaign, and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

With that said, let’s queue up the theme song!

Preds sign Jarnkrok for six years, with a cap hit of just $2 million

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 09:  Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on December 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 3-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Nashville’s momentous offseason continued today with the signing of forward Calle Jarnkrok to a six-year, $12 million contract.

That’s a cap hit of just $2 million, all the way through 2021-22.

Suffice to say, it’s not often that a player signs such a long deal, for such a modest cap hit. Jarnkrok notched career highs in goals (16) assists (14) in 81 games last season for the Preds. He kills penalties, too.

At the very least, the 24-year-old has some financial security now. But for Nashville, as long as his production doesn’t fall off a cliff, he could end up being a great bargain.

Jarnkrok had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Preds avoid arbitration with Petter Granberg — two years, $1.225 million

Red Wings re-sign Mrazek to two-year, $8 million deal

Detroit Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek (34) stops a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula (51) in the first period of Game 3 in a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series, Sunday, April 17, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP
1 Comment

The Detroit Red Wings didn’t need Petr Mrazek‘s arbitration hearing either.

The day after the Wings avoided the process by locking up defenseman Danny DeKeyser, they agreed on a two-year deal with Mrazek, with a reported cap hit of $4 million.

Mrazek, 24, went 27-16-6 last season with a .921 save percentage. Those numbers compared favorably to Jimmy Howard‘s (14-14-5, .906); however, GM Ken Holland has argued that keeping Howard could be best for Mrazek’s development.

“It could possibly be detrimental if we put Petr in a situation where we’re just going to throw him out and play 70 games and no matter how you play, we’re going to keep putting you out,” said Holland.

Granted, it may be that Howard is simply untradeable. He’s 32 years old, hasn’t put up solid numbers the past three seasons, and has three years remaining on his contract with a cap hit of just under $5.3 million.

If Howard remains, the Wings will have just under $9.3 million in cap space allocated to their goaltenders next season, one of the highest totals in the league.

Mrazek, by the way, will still be a restricted free agent when his new contract expires in the summer of 2018.

Tavares ‘would love’ to spend his entire career with Isles

John Tavares
AP
1 Comment

With new majority owners and now talk of a new arena, the future of the New York Islanders has been a popular topic lately.

Not surprisingly, it’s led to plenty of discussion about the future of captain John Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018.

Ownership has insisted that it won’t get that far, that Tavares will be re-signed. The Isles will have “no financial constraints,” owner Jon Ledecky promised.

But what about Tavares? What does he think?

“I think I’ve always showed my commitment, my appreciation and my desire to play on Long Island,” the 25-year-old told Sportsnet 590 radio on Tuesday, per NHL.com. “I would love for that to continue for the long haul. I think you look at some of the greatest players in the game have been able to spend their entire career somewhere. I hope I’m in that same position.”

As for the speculation he could sign in Toronto?

“I would not count on that,” he said.

So start the countdown to July 1, 2017. That’s when Tavares can officially start negotiating an extension with the Isles.

Perhaps by then we’ll even know where the team will be playing its future games. Will it be Brooklyn or somewhere else?

Sens re-sign Hoffman to four-year, $20.75 million deal

Mike Hoffman
AP
1 Comment

Only 18 NHLers have scored more goals than Mike Hoffman has over the last two seasons.

Today, the Ottawa Senators signed the 26-year-old sniper to a four-year contract with a reported cap hit of $5.1875 million.

Hoffman had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 4. The breakdown of his new deal, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

His contract done, Hoffman can now focus fully on next season, which he’s excited about.

“New coach coming in, Guy Boucher, I had him in junior when I played in Drummondville of the Quebec League,” Hoffman said recently. “Very good relationship with him, we won a championship together. So definitely looking forward to working with him this year.”

As for Sens GM Pierre Dorion, he’s still got some offseason work to do. Defenseman Cody Cedi is a restricted free agent, and there’s no arbitration date to encourage a settlement in his case. While Dorion is confident that something that will get done with the 22-year-old, what remains to be seen is if it’s a short- or long-term deal.