James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Sabres owner discusses report that Jack Eichel seeks 8-year deal

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

The Associated Press reports that the Buffalo Sabres are discussing a possible eight-year contract extension with budding star Jack Eichel.

Eichel, 20, is currently in the final season of his entry-level deal, so he can sign an extension at any point he pleases. To little surprise, Sabres owner Terry Pegula played coy about the specifics of the negotiations, but wasn’t shy about acknowledging mutual interest in keeping Eichel.

Believe it or not, this report didn’t surface because it’s Sabres day here. PHT’s Joey Alfieri did break down what an Eichel contract might look like, so check that out in this post.

Signing an extension for the maximum length of time is quite the statement from Eichel, although there’s at least some sentiment that this shouldn’t be surprising.

Either way, the new-look Sabres would likely be ecstatic to lock up their most important player long-term sooner rather than later, so we’ll see how these talks progress.

It’s Buffalo Sabres day at PHT

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The Buffalo Sabres finished last season in an all-too-familiar place: the basement of their division.

Uniform failures meant the end of line for Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma, with Jason Botterill taking over as GM and Phil Housley becoming head coach.

The Sabres are no strangers to off-season changes from a personnel perspective, and this summer was no different.

Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu join the fold via bold trades, while they also signed Matt Tennyson. Meanwhile, Dmitry Kulikov is gone, and the same appears to be true for Cody Franson.

That Scandella trade also brings Jason Pominville back to town while shipping Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno to Minnesota. Benoit Pouliot was also added in a nice little under-the-radar free agent signing.

Chad Johnson also provides Robin Lehner with a credible backup (and maybe viable competition, as both are only on one-year deals).

For the most part, the Sabres hope to improve from within … and maybe enjoy some better luck. The hope is that Jack Eichel doesn’t miss much of the final year of his entry-level deal after being limited to about half of his sophomore season. One hopes that Kyle Okposo‘s health issues are way behind him, both from an on and off-ice perspective.

Change is in the air, but it remains to be seen how much positive change Housley can generate in his first season as an NHL head coach. PHT will discuss the many factors surrounding the 2017-18 season for Buffalo on Tuesday.

Wild salary cap outlook with Granlund, Niederreiter signed

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The Minnesota Wild are a fascinating team to observe, especially after several players received a shot in the arm playing under Bruce Boudreau.

While the team still needs to settle matters with RFA Marcus Foligno, GM Chuck Fletcher navigated the choppy waters of a challenging off-season, dealing with the expansion draft and finding fair compromises with Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund.

Now that Fletcher avoided arbitration hearings with Niederreiter and Granlund, this seems like a good time to take a wider look at the Wild’s salary structure. In doing so, we’ll see quite the mix of good, bad, and uncertain.

Crossing their fingers

There’s no sense ignoring the twin elephants in the room: matching $7.54 million cap hits for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, which don’t run out until after the 2023-24 season. As of this writing, Suter is 32 and Parise is 33.

The debates regarding Suter’s ultimate value seem like they’ve died down in recent years, likely because he doesn’t get the same Norris hype that he once did. Right now, it seems like he’s in a reasonable spot, especially since his workload is at least trending toward something more reasonable. He averaged 26:55 TOI in 2016-17 after receiving between 28:36 in 2015-16 to a ridiculous 29:25 in 2013-14. In the grand scheme of things, Suter is fine, though Boudreau would be wise to continue to spead the wealth to Minnesota’s other defensemen.

After many years of outstanding work, Parise now stands as arguably an even bigger concern than Suter.

This is a situation where one must consider value, as Parise is still a fine player; injuries are the main reason he didn’t fall in his typical 25-goal range.

Other signs inspire a bit more concern. His per-game point average was just .61 last season compared to his career average of .8. Parise also didn’t shoot as often (2.8 vs. 3.39 for his career) and has been less of a possesion driver in the past two seasons.

Maybe some of those 2016-17 struggles were injury-related, but it’s tougher to ignore such worries when Parise makes so much money, for so long.

Not every costly veteran sets off alarms, though.

Mikko Koivu enjoyed such a resurgence last season that he was a Selke finalist, but that $6.75M still feels less foreboding when you realize it expires after 2017-18. Maybe he’d take a discount to help his long-time team compete?

Strong deals

Chalk up Granlund at $5.75M and Niederreiter at $5.25M to good-to-great deals.

The Wild’s most promising contract likely goes to Devan Dubnyk, however. At $4.33M, Dubnyk’s delivered at-or-near-elite goaltending for Minnesota. At 31, there’s some reason to expect an eventual decline … but that’s some strong value on paper.

Naturally, goalies are an unpredictable lot, but Minnesota’s outlook has come a long way since the end of the Niklas Backstrom era.

Eric Staal‘s brilliant rebound season makes his $3.5M look like a steal, and at 32, there’s a solid chance that it will remain that way for the two years that cover his current deal.

Mysteries

There are some fascinating situations in Minny.

They saved money in sending Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to Buffalo for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Even so, Ennis has had serious injury issues, making his $4.6M look a bit risky. Then again, what if Boudreau once again revitalizes a flawed talent?

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker both eyeball RFA statuses after this season, while Charlie Coyle seems like he could go either way on his $3.2M deal. It also remains to be seen if Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin can take that “next step.”

***

Not that long ago, the Wild seemed to be stuck in limbo.

To the credit of Fletcher, Boudreau, and some emerging talents, things look a lot more promising today. The Wild have about $4.8M in cap space according to Cap Friendly, and while Foligno is likely to eat up some of that, there’s at least breathing room there.

It’s not a perfect situation, yet the Wild stand as a reasonably viable contender … though they haven’t yet enjoyed the sort of deep playoff push you’d expect with all of that spending.

Babcock praises Matthews, also warns: ‘One year doesn’t make a career’

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When Tony Romo first burst onto the NFL scene, Bill Parcells tried to cool things down just a bit by saying something to the effect of “Don’t get out the anointing oil just yet.”

It’s very much in Parcells’ and other coaches’ playbooks: bring them up when they’re struggling, throw a bit of ice water on them when they’re riding high. Mike Babcock did at least a bit of that when discussing the Toronto Maple Leafs’ young stars such as Auston Matthews, though for the most part he was providing effusive praise to NHL.com on Monday.

“Obviously we have good young players,” Babcock said. “We have a lot of them. It’s kind of a group that’s growing up together. But it’s one year and one year doesn’t make a career. You have to do it again and again and again. We’re excited about our opportunities.”

Again, his comments didn’t generally have that sourpuss Parcells vibe overall.

Babcock’s praise went beyond point totals regarding Matthews, raving about his “200-foot game” and stating his belief that the young center can “play against anybody.”

That’s not just hot air, either, as Babcock basically threw Matthews to the wolves very early on as a rookie. The Globe & Mail spotlighted his work against Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry back in December, as just one example.

Ultimately, that all-around play (not to mention working with less experienced wingers rather than top-line guys like Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele) helped Matthews edge Patrik Laine for the Calder in 2016-17. Most importantly, though, it’s that Swiss Army Knife style that could make Matthews the sort of player who can make an impact on the game even when pucks aren’t hitting the net.

Babcock just doesn’t want Matthews to go off to Cabo and phone it in after hearing all of this praise.

(H/T to Sportsnet’s Sonny Sachdeva.)

Wild avoid arbitration, sign Mikael Granlund for three years

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The Minnesota Wild faced some serious challenges this off-season, particularly in potential salary arbitration hearings. They’ve taken care of the big obstacles in impressive ways.

Mere days after signing Nino Niederreiter to a five-year, $26.25 million contract to avoid arbitration, the Wild found common ground with another rising star forward in Mikael Granlund. In Granlund’s case, he gets a higher cap hit ($5.75 million) that only covers him for three seasons.

In total, Granlund’s three-year contract is worth $17.25 million.

Specifically, the 25-year-old receives $5.25M in 2017-18, $5.5M in 2018-19, and $6.5M in 2019-20.

After showing flashes of brilliance through his first four years in the NHL, Granlund blew away his previous totals, scoring 26 goals and 69 points.

“Mikael has been an important part of our club for the last five years, and he showed a great amount of growth with an impressive performance last season,” Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said. “People across the League are now surely aware of what our management group has always known: Mikael has a tremendous level of talent and skill. Coupled with his excellent work ethic and tremendous character, we know he’ll play a large role in the future success of our team, and we’re thrilled to have him under contract moving forward.”

Much like Niederreiter, Granlund may (reasonably) claim that his best years are in front of him.

This covers the headliners for the Wild, though they still need to strike a deal with RFA Marcus Foligno.

This also appears to be another summer where most teams avoid the more harrowing aspects of arbitration: