Travis Hamonic

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Report: Tavares, Islanders haven’t discussed money yet

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Look, John Tavares is going to get paid. And he deserves it, especially since the New York Islanders have been enjoying one of the best non-rookie-deal bargains in his $5.5 million cap hit.

There are details to work out, depending upon how much money he wants to leave to build around him and how long a commitment Tavares prefers to make.

Unrestricted free agency isn’t just about squeezing out every dime, after all. It’s as much about finally getting the chance to choose where you work and who you work with.

That’s especially relevant with the Islanders, a team that missed the playoffs in 2016-17 and has been dealing with arena issues. With those factors in mind, it’s not surprising that TSN’s Darren Dreger, Newsday’s Arthur Staple and others report that money hasn’t been the focus of conversations.

Dreger confirmed as much via Tavares’ reps.

In a way, these updates are almost scarier for the Islanders.

GM Garth Snow at least took some measures to try to improve the team around Tavares by trading for Jordan Eberle, although it cost the Isles Ryan Strome and they then traded Travis Hamonic.

Bolstering the team the Islanders put around Tavares and securing the arena they play figures to be challenging and possibly complicated. It could be months before the Islanders get some clarification about their arena situation, for instance.

The good news is that Tavares stated that he’s in “no rush” to settle this, although that does little to calm the nerves of Islanders fans right now.

Tavares is justified in wanting a stable situation for the Islanders before he signs with them, particularly considering the team has only won a single playoff series since 1992-93 (with Tavares starring, of course). You only get so many chances to sign a big deal with a team of your choice, so Tavares should do whatever he can to make the right choice.

It sounds like the Islanders will get a real chance to prove that the best option is for Tavares to stay put, at least once they move into a cozier spot.

For what it’s worth, 60 percent of voters in a PHT poll believe that Tavares will re-sign with the Islanders.

Flames – Oilers rivalry is worth getting excited about again

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This post is a part of Flames day at PHT…

For about a recent 10-year period, the rivalry between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers — known as the Battle of Alberta — had really just become about the past.

It was about old memories, a trip back in time to when both clubs were battling it out, particularly during the 1980s and into the early 1990s, for hockey supremacy in that Canadian province. That’s because, over this more recent stretch, the Flames and Oilers had been mired in mediocrity in the Western Conference.

From 2006 to 2016, the Flames had made the playoffs five times, advancing to the second round only once and the team’s success that season under Bob Hartley was in no way going to be sustainable long-term. The Oilers, well, they made the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 and then endured 10 straight seasons out of the playoffs. For both franchises, that is a far cry from their glory days and fiercest battles against each other.

Technically, the rivalry still existed during this 10-year downturn. But it was never really worth getting too excited about. At one point, there was hope from Oilers executive Kevin Lowe that perhaps the outspoken Brian Burke would help rekindle the rivalry when he joined the Flames a few years ago.

It appears, however, that has all changed.

Both teams not only made the playoffs last season, which is a positive sign, but have rosters that should allow them to build on those steps forward when the upcoming season gets underway.

After management changes, coaching changes and getting the No. 1 overall selection in four out of six years — Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov are no longer with Edmonton — the Oilers appear like they are turning a corner following the second year of the Connor McDavid Era and with the play of Cam Talbot in goal last season.

The Flames? Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau anchor their offensive attack, with Matthew Tkachuk set for his sophomore season after an impressive rookie campaign as a teenager. The Flames have also done a nice job of building a strong group of defensemen, particularly their top four, with the summer addition of Travis Hamonic to join Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton.

Does Calgary now have the best defense in the NHL? That’s up for debate, but it’s still a solid blue line, with their top four under contract for at least another three years. (Giordano has five years remaining on his deal and Hamilton has another four years.)

Acquiring Mike Smith to take over the starting duties in net (he’s under some pressure) and adding Eddie Lack as a capable No. 2 are also moves that indicate the Flames feel they are, within this cycle of the organization, ready to compete for the West.

Not only should both clubs remain competitive over the next few years, but the star power they both contain helps grow the rivalry, as well.

McDavid is, well, McDavid.

For the Flames, Johnny Hockey isn’t the biggest player on the ice but with his slick hands and ability to evade larger defenders, he’s shown capable of producing at a point-per-game pace over a long season and doing so with some flair for the fans. Monahan, only 22 years old, was recently listed as one of the top 20 centers in the NHL, and has scored at least 20 goals or more in each of his four seasons.

The Flames and Oilers won’t have to wait long to renew the rivalry. With star players involved, steps taken in the right direction by both franchises last season and higher expectations in 2017-18, they will face each other on Oct. 4 in Edmonton to kick off the new season.

This next chapter in the Battle of Alberta shouldn’t have to rely on nostalgia.

Under Pressure: Mike Smith

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This post is a part of Flames day at PHT…

Goaltending has been a major issue for the Calgary Flames in recent seasons and for the second year in a row they have completely overhauled the position, bringing in two new faces in an effort to fix it.

Replacing Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson this season (after Elliott and Johnson replaced Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio the year before) will be the veteran of duo of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack.

Both goalies are looking to rebound with a fresh start in a new city.

Smith, acquired in an offseason trade with the Arizona Coyotes, is going to be the starter and is going to have the most pressure on him.

Not only because the Flames are still on the hook for the remainder of his contract (more than $11 million over the next two seasons) but because he is going to be playing behind a defense that is going to be one of the best in the NHL, led by Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton and Travis Hamonic. That is an outstanding group and even average goaltending should make the Flames one of the toughest teams in the league to score against.

Smith, however, has not always performed at that level in recent seasons.

Looking at his past three years total his even-strength save percentage of .920 places him 38th out of 61 goalies that have appeared in at least 50 games, while his overall save percentage of .911 places him 45th out of that group (his new backup, Eddie Lack, is 46th over that same stretch). Even if you look at only his performance from this past season in Arizona (a .914 save percentage) it wouldn’t be that big of an upgrade over what the Flames were getting out of the Elliott/Johnson duo.

Now, that was good enough to get the Flames into the playoffs and make them a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to preventing goals.

But the Flames are at a point now where their objective should be more than just simply “make the playoffs” or be an average defensive team.

If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have traded for a 35-year-old goalie and been willing to pay him more than $11 million over the next two seasons.

This is a team that has what should be on paper one of the best quartets of defensemen in the league, it has some outstanding young forwards that are just now entering the prime of their careers (Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund) and some emerging young stars in Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett.

They are clearly in what they believe to be a “win-now” mode with a chance to compete in the Western Conference.

For them to do that they are going to need a big season from their new goaltender.

It’s Calgary Flames day at PHT

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The Calgary Flames made it back to the playoffs in the spring, but were swiftly swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round.

General manager Brad Treliving then went to work, making numerous changes to the roster, most notably in goal.

The Flames moved on from the duo of Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott after one season and acquired Mike Smith prior to the expansion draft trade freeze. They also picked up Eddie Lack from Carolina at the end of June.

The move to acquire Smith would suggest the Flames believe they’ve entered a window to win right now, with what should be a strong top-four unit on the blue line and a nucleus of skilled and still youthful forwards, including 2016 first-round pick Matthew Tkachuk, who made the roster at age 18 and had an immediate impact.

On defense, Treliving added Travis Hamonic from the Islanders, giving the Flames a top-four defensive unit of T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and Hamonic. The Nashville Predators may still be the envy of the league with their top-four on ‘D’ but the Flames appear to have a formidable group of their own heading into the upcoming season.

Calgary also re-signed defenseman Michael Stone, who they picked up in a deal with Arizona before last season’s trade deadline.

With only a few days left until September, Treliving still needs to get restricted free agents Sam Bennett, Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon under contract.

Today at PHT, we’ll discuss the key storylines facing the Flames with training camp approaching.

Avalanche have a ton of flexibility – and questions to answer

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This post is a part of Avalanche day at PHT…

When you take a gander at the Colorado Avalanche’s Cap Friendly page, you may first notice a few things:

  • The terrifying lack of quality defensemen beyond Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and Mark Barberio.
  • The terrifying lack of talent to compliment the few quality players beyond those blueliners, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, a handful of young forwards and … that’s about it.
  • The somewhat-comforting fact that the Avalanche don’t have a ton of old players locked up to scary, long-term contracts any longer.

Yes, the Avalanche only have these players locked up for three or more years:

Nathan MacKinnon ($6 million per year through 2022-23, 21 years old)
Landeskog ($5.571M through 2020-21, 24)
Carl Soderberg ($4.75M through 2019-20, 31)
Johnson ($6M through 2022-23, 29)
Barrie ($5.5M through 2019-20,26)

It’s also easy to forget that MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, and quite a few other key Colorado players are all still in the meat of their prime years.

For all the understandable trade rumors regarding Duchene and Landeskog, that Johnson contract might be worth a little shopping if Colorado shows few signs of improvement, even if that would mean draining the defensive talent pool to a Slip-n-Slide size.

Either way, the Avalanche face a refreshingly clean slate … that could also be terrifying if you don’t believe in GM Joe Sakic’s ability to take advantage of these opportunities.

(Read more on Sakic specifically in Under Pressure: Joe Sakic.)

Let’s rattle off some burning questions for this franchise, then:

  1. Echoing that earlier point, is Sakic the right guy to make these choices?
  2. If so, is Jared Bednar the head coach to lead them out of the darkness … or maybe just the one to take the fall for one more “tanking” season?
  3. Semyon Varlamov‘s contract has two more years on it, while backup Jonathan Bernier has one. The Avalanche need to decide how they’ll handle goaltending in the future (a future without Calvin Pickard).
  4. Do you trade Duchene? If so, what kind of package is acceptable after reportedly passing up the likes of Travis Hamonic in previous offers?
  5. Also, do you trade Landeskog? It would probably be wise to drive up the value of both Duchene and Landeskog rather than trading from a position of weakness, at least now that it’s mid-August.
  6. Who else should be considered a core player? Colin Wilson is 27, so you wonder how long he’ll reside in Colorado.
  7. Are the Avalanche doing a good enough job developing prospects? With Tyson Jost looking to make the leap, Mikko Rantanen showing flashes of brilliance, and Cale Makar headlining this past draft class, much of the future will come down to making the most of these players. Some wonder if they haven’t optimized other talents, such as MacKinnon.

***

Some of those questions are really tough, and the wrong answer could set the Avalanche up for more suffering in the future.

For all the current problems and how low things went in 2016-17, at least Sakic & Co. have a lot of freedom to sculpt this team into something respectable, and then competitive. Now they just need to start actually doing just that.

Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done.