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Avs president gives Sakic vote of confidence

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To hear Colorado team president Josh Kroenke explain it, the worst season in franchise history hasn’t put GM Joe Sakic on the hot seat.

“Joe’s leash hasn’t changed at all,” Kroenke told the Denver Post, when asked if Sakic’s leash had shortened. “Nobody wants to get the Avalanche back to where they were, where we all expect them to be, more than Joe Sakic. We’re going to continue to give him every resource at his disposal and I’m going to help him in any ways he sees that I can.”

Sakic was heavily scrutinized last season, one in which the Avs won just 22 games and finished with a shockingly low 48 points. His roster construction came into question — especially the team’s defense — and his lack of significant movement at the trade deadline confounded some.

Of course, Sakic was dealt a tough hand.

Patrick Roy’s surprise resignation as head coach in August put Sakic and new bench boss Jared Bednar in an extremely tough spot. Losing Erik Johnson and Semyon Varlamov to long-term injuries was a blow as well. These are just a few of the things Kroenke mentioned in suggesting Sakic “deserves a little bit of leeway” for how the season went.

Interestingly, Kroenke also defended Sakic’s decision not to more one of the club’s “core” guys during the season: Johnson, Varlamov, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog or Tyson Barrie. When the wheels started to come off in late November, the GM quickly ruled out moving MacKinnon (or prized draftees Mikko Rantanen and Tyson Jost).

As things worsened, Sakic was insistent he wouldn’t make a move for the sake of making a move.

Kroenke was in lockstep.

“Joe and I had lots of dialogue leading up to the deadline and my only message to him was, ‘Do what you think is right for the longterm, we don’t need to do something just to do something,” he said. “If someone thinks we’re in the fire-sale mode based on our record and you don’t think the return is adequate for the player, then don’t hesitate to just sit.”

Publicly, Kroenke’s messages reflect that he and Sakic are of the same mind when it comes to righting the ship, and that Sakic’s job is safe. Sakic, meanwhile, has already confirmed Bednar will be back for a second year on the job.

Now, the focus turns to the players. How many of them will be back?

 

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

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The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.

Columnist: Potential new Hurricanes owner concerned with ‘revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market’

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The Carolina Hurricanes may have a potential new owner in Chuck Greenberg, the former CEO of the MLB Texas Rangers who also had interest in the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

A report Friday goes into further details about Greenberg’s motivation in purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos, who has been exploring a sale of the team for quite some time now.

Previous reports indicate the agreement between the Hurricanes and Greenberg would keep the club in Raleigh, amid ages of speculation it may be a candidate for possible relocation to markets like Seattle or Quebec City.

From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Interviews with people close to Greenberg and others who have knowledge of the proposed purchase but requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks paint a picture of a front man who would be deeply concerned with the fan experience and revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market, but lacking the money to fund the purchase himself and reliant on a group of investors to get the deal done.

If the deal goes through, at a reported price of $500 million that likely includes a large amount of assumed debt while valuing the actual franchise closer to $300 million, Greenberg would move to Raleigh with the intention of making the team work here. That’s what Hurricanes fans long afraid of a move to Quebec City or Seattle during these years of ownership uncertainty as Karmanos has had the team on the market have been hoping to hear.

The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 but haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Despite their postseason drought, Carolina is building quite a depth of young talent, most notably on defense. They could take another positive step forward next season, perhaps contending for a playoff spot. In a bid to bolster their goaltending situation, the Hurricanes also acquired and then signed former Chicago No. 2 netminder Scott Darling.

Predators’ Watson asking for $1.4 million in arbitration

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It could be a busy couple of days for the Nashville Predators with two arbitration hearings scheduled through Monday.

The first of those two was scheduled for Saturday with restricted free agent forward Viktor Arvidsson, while Austin Watson is scheduled to have his on Monday if no deal is struck before then. On Saturday Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Watson and the Predators have filed their numbers for that hearing with Watson looking to make $1.4 million, and the Predators countering with an offer of $700,000.

Watson made $575,000 this past season for the Predators when he scored five goals with 12 assists in 77 games while mostly playing in a bottom-six role.

The 25-year-old Watson was a first-round pick by the Predators in 2010 and has played his entire career to this point with the organization. In parts of three seasons with the big club he has scored just nine goals in 140 games.

He played what was perhaps his best hockey with the team during the 2016-17 playoffs when he scored four goals (nearly matching his career regular season high) and added five assists during the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. All four of those goals came in the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, including two in their series-clinching Game 6 win. He also recorded three assists in the Stanley Cup Final.

Given the relatively small gap here this seems like a classic “meet in the middle” situation when it comes to reaching a deal for this upcoming season.

Ducks prospect Jones seems ready to make the jump to the NHL

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The Anaheim Ducks had a chance to restock their prospect cupboard during the 2016 draft with a pair of first-round picks, selecting Max Jones with the No. 24 overall pick and Sam Steel with the No. 30 pick. Both prospects had strong seasons in 2016-17 with their junior teams — Steel recorded 131 points in 66 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, while Jones was a point-per-game player for the OHL’s London Knights before getting his first taste of pro hockey with a nine-game look in the American Hockey League playoffs with the San Diego Gulls.

He now seems determined to make the Ducks’ roster this upcoming season.

Here is talking to Eric Stephens of the OC Register following the team’s prospect camp earlier this month.

“I don’t know if it’s about that,” Jones said at the Ducks’ prospect camp earlier this month. “I just think … I won a Memorial Cup. I think it’s time to move on and try to win a Stanley Cup. That’s kind of what my idea is.

“I want to step into the big leagues and I want to … for years and years I’ve been watching teams win that Stanley Cup and that’s all I want to do right now. Start playing and try to win a Stanley Cup.”

The problem Jones and the Ducks will face this season is that he is still not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the CHL transfer agreement, which means the team has to decide whether or not to give him a look with the big club in Anaheim, or send him back to the Ontario Hockey League for a third consecutive season.

He also missed significant time this past season due to a broken arm and another suspension for crossing the line physically (this time it was 10 games for cross-checking), something he has struggled with during his junior hockey days.

Given his willingness to play the game with a physical edge and his size (6-3, 215 pounds) he certainly seems to fit the Ducks’ “heavy” style of play.

Still, the Ducks’ roster is already pretty deep and there aren’t many spots available, especially after the team just reached the Western Conference Finals this past season. For as big and talented as he is, he has still only played 112 games in the OHL over the past two seasons and hasn’t always dominated offensively. Some additional development time might not be the worst thing for him this season.