James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Predators spend big on Ryan Johansen: eight years, $64M

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Much was made about Ryan Johansen really establishing himself as a No. 1 center who could compete with the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews during the Nashville Predators’ 2017 Stanley Cup Final run.

The Predators will pay him as such, as they announced a whopping eight-year, $64 million contract on Friday. That’s $8M per season for Johansen, who turns 25 on July 31.

It’s the largest deal signed in franchise history, although that can feel a touch misleading in how it really functions. After all, P.K. Subban‘s cap hit is higher at $9M and they once matched that massive Shea Weber offer sheet. The bottom line is that Johansen joins Subban and Pekka Rinne ($7M) as Nashville’s most expensive players.

The trio of Johansen, Filip Forsberg ($6M), and Viktor Arvidsson ($4.25M) carries a combined cap hit of $18.25 million.

News of Johansen signing a new deal first came from The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan.

Check out this post about how impressive the Predators’ salary structure looked before Johansen’s deal came down. Cap Friendly estimates that Nashville’s cap space goes down to $5.44 million after the signing, which adds some risk to this group but still looks wisely constructed overall.

The good and bad of Canadiens’ cap situation

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Whether you view Mark Streit as Andrei Markov’s replacement or not, the bottom line is that the Montreal Canadiens didn’t bring Markov back.

That decision closes the book on one of the Habs’ biggest mandatory decisions, though with a Cap Friendly estimate of almost $8.5 million in cap space, GM Marc Bergevin’s work may continue.

Even so, saving money on Markov seems like a decent excuse to examine the team’s salary cap situation as a whole, so let’s do just that.

A cheap, impressive group of forwards

Alex Radulov will be missed; there’s little doubting that.

Even so, handing that much term to an aging forward doesn’t seem to be Bergevin’s M.O. If nothing else, the best thing about his work is how affordable Montreal’s high-quality forwards are.

That’s especially true if Bergevin resists the urge to trade Alex Galchenyuk, who still has room to grow at 23, and who’s likely to be a bargain at $4.9 million for three seasons. Along with providing serious talent, Galchenyuk could take some of the heat off of Jonathan Drouin, who carries a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old making $5.5M through 2022-23.

Personally, those two seem like prime candidates to parallel Max Pacioretty‘s sublime steal of $4.5M, though maybe not to the same splendid degree.

Pacioretty’s contract began in 2013-14, and the fun continues until it expires after 2018-19. He’ll be 30 and a UFA by then, so that could be quite the headache for Montreal … but at least they’re enjoying huge savings before that problem comes.

And, hey, maybe it will be time for “Patches” to step into a calmer atmosphere by then, anyway …

The Habs feature two other significant forward contracts: Andrew Shaw (26 years old, $3.9M through 2021-22) and Brendan Gallagher (25, $3.75M through 2020-21). While Shaw has the rings, Gallagher is the most enticing of the two, at least as far as how high one’s ceiling can go.

A void down the middle?

Looking at shorter-term deals, Tomas Plekanec‘s $6M expiring after 2017-18 is especially fascinating.

Center is a weak spot for the Canadiens, and that could linger if Claude Julien can’t make things work with Galchenyuk and/or Drouin. Plekanec is already 34, so what would the future hold, especially if he wants something close to his current salary again?

Again, while there are certainly questions to answer, the Habs have done a commendable job putting together an affordable fleet of quality forwards.

Now to the scarier stuff.

On Aug. 16, Carey Price turns 30. The 2017-18 season represents his last at a relative bargain clip of $6.5M. After that, the Canadiens are betting big that he can remain an all-world goalie; he carries a $10.5M cap hit from 2018-19 to 2025-26. Yikes.

Oddly enough, Shea Weber‘s birthday is Aug. 14, when he’ll turn 32. Weber’s 14-year pact still has long legs, as he’ll carry a $7.857 million cap hit through 2025-26. Yikes again.

Slow burn

When it comes to the defensive side, the Canadiens might not be the most … mobile bunch, especially after parting ways with solid depth guy Nathan Beaulieu and prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

At 39, Mark Streit doesn’t exactly add fresh legs to a group that could get old in a few years. Your mileage will vary regarding how positive an impact you expect from Weber and new signing Karl Alzner. If things go awry, one would expect some serious griping about the exits of Markov, Alexei Emelin, Beaulieu, and even Sergachev.

(At least there’s Jeff Petry, who seems to gain approval from just about everyone. Just about.)

For the next three seasons, the Canadiens are on the hook for Weber, Petry, Alzner, and David Schlemko for about $20 million combined. Beginning in 2018-19, that defense and Price would cost about $30.5 million.

That combination could turn into a real problem, really fast.

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Then again, it’s not as bad if you look at the situation in a more “instant gratification” way.

Weber still has value now, and Alzner adds experience at a reasonable age. Few coaches can optimize such a defense like Julien can, and things could really cook if Price is Price and those forwards get at least some room to breathe.

And, hey, that $8M and change could be put to interesting use. Did you hear that Jaromir Jagr wanted to be a member of the Habs not so long ago?

It’s easy to see gloom and doom in the forecast, yet for next season, the outlook is fairly sunny. Bergevin’s made his mistakes, but this should be a fascinating team to watch in 2017-18.

Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher would consider offer from Penguins

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Instead of signing with the Colorado Avalanche – the team that drafted him – Will Butcher will reportedly test free agency starting on Aug. 15.

The Hobey Baker Award-winning defenseman would make sense for an array of NHL teams, really, with the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs mentioned among early considerations.

So, what about the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that’s lost some talent on the blueline and has enjoyed some success with NCAA products? Well, it remains to be seen if the defending repeat champions would be interested in Butcher’s services, but the defenseman’s agent told Josh Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they would certainly listen.

“If they happen to call,” Brian Bartlett said. “I’m sure we’d answer the phone.”

Mackey notes some of the successful college players the Penguins have deployed.

There’s familiarity here, too: Bartlett also represents former college players and current Penguins Bryan Rust (Notre Dame), Scott Wilson (UMass-Lowell) and Josh Archibald (Nebraska-Omaha).

Bartlett also claims that Butcher, 22, wouldn’t demand an immediate spot on an NHL roster. That’s nice to hear … although you wonder if a team offering as much would get a better chance to land him, especially since entry-level contract limits mean that a “bidding war” would come down to what team, situation, and location he’d prefer.

Considering the possibility for a nice reward and the fairly limited risk involved, plenty of teams should be interested in Butcher. It sounds like the interest would be mutual if the Penguins were one of those suitors.

One way or another, we’ll likely learn more in a bit more than two weeks.

Update: The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports that the Detroit Red Wings are interested in Butcher, too.

Johansen raves about Nashville after signing big deal with Predators

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Hey, Ryan Johansen already had a reason to be happy going into this weekend.

After all, today is his dog’s birthday and Johansen’s 25th comes on Monday. That would have been a good reason to pop some champagne (and hand out some special canine treats) in itself.

Apologies to his pooch, but the best thing that happened today drew headlines: the Nashville Predators handed out their richest deal* to Johansen on Friday: an eight-year, $64 million contract.

You might not be shocked that Johansen said this is “probably one of the best days of my life right now,” according to NHL.com’s Robby Stanley. It doesn’t hurt that Johansen gets the opportunity to stay in Nashville, a city that was deep into a hockey frenzy during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Those are some great pleasantries, and there’s little reason to deny Johansen. Nick Bonino could attest, as he went from the Penguins to the Predators in part because of Nashville, claiming that there were better deals out there.

It’s probably more important that Johansen is healthy after the scary thigh issue that abruptly ended his playoff run, and Brooks Bratten of the Predators’ website notes that Johansen believes everything is going well and according to the plan.

That’s a promising update, especially since expectations will be high considering the price tag on that new deal. After taking a big step this past season, Johansen must prove himself once more, now that he’s one of the most expensive centers in the NHL.

On the bright side, even if he stumbles and becomes the object of some criticism … he’ll at least have that cash and good ‘ol Doug.

* – Again, P.K. Subban carries a higher cap hit (but was traded to Nashville) and Shea Weber cost more overall (yet the Flyers “signed” him to an offer sheet), so it’s sort of semantics thing. The important thing to remember is that it was a lot of cash.

Oilers coach on Draisaitl negotiations, cap crunch and more

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As NHL.com reports, Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan doesn’t seem too worried about Leon Draisaitl‘s contract negotiations.

“I’m confident we’re going to see Leon in an [Oilers] uniform,” McLellan said at a charity golf tournament. “We want him to be there, he wants to be there, and it’s just a matter of getting a few things done over the summer.”

Granted, as confident as McLellan is, he also admits that he doesn’t really get involved in that side of the hockey business, preferring to leave that to GM Peter Chiarelli.

On that note, McLellan said he’s aware that locking down Drasaitl, Connor McDavid, and other key members will likely leave the Oilers with a “tight wallet … and that’s not going to change for many years.”

(For an in-depth look at the Oilers’ salary structure, check out this deep dive.)

McLellan faces the challenge of aligning those big-ticket items with bargain signings, something that’s likely only to become a more common situation as time goes along. He also must deal with an obstacle that isn’t new to him considering his Sharks days, but will be unusual for many Oilers: no longer slipping under the radar.

“Expectations make it a little harder on a hockey club, mentally and physically, and we haven’t experienced that as a group yet and that’s why I still consider our team a growth team,” McLellan said. “We’ve got to go through that now. Teams will be ready for the Oilers. They’ll be prepared to play against us night in and night out, and people expect us, our fans in particular, to win on a more regular basis than we have in the past. Our task just gets tougher.”

If they fail, McLellan will shoulder much of the blame, even if management makes some poor decisions with that “tight wallet.”