Author: James O'Brien

Cam Ward

Canes still believe Ward can be an elite goalie


One can only speculate regarding how the Carolina Hurricanes’ front office actually feels about goalie Cam Ward, but they’re wisely pumping up the struggling netminder to the media. New GM Ron Francis even used the word “elite” while discussing Ward with the Raleigh News & Observer.

“We still believe he can be an elite goalie in this league,” Francis said. “By the same token, Cam understands what he needs to do to get back to that level. He could have done one of two things in the offseason – either sit back and relax, or work twice as hard toward having a better year. From what I have heard, he chose to work hard.”

When you combine injury concerns and his poor recent play, it’s debatable if Ward should even get a chance to create a 1A/1B situation with Anton Khudobin, so throwing the “elite” word around seems a bit rich.

Carolina seems to be leaning toward that aforementioned platoon scenario nonetheless. Considering his contract ($6.3 million cap hit through 2015-16, with a no-trade clause to make matters even worse) it’s difficult to imagine the Hurricanes finding a home for the 30-year-old goalie.

The one positive notion is that it’s hard to imagine Ward sinking any lower than he did last season, either; he put up 80’s-level numbers (.898 save percentage, 3.06 GAA) and finished with a 10-12-6 record in 2013-14. That’s atrocious, yet injuries are a decent excuse for Ward, and he’s saying the right things about working on his fitness level.

Ward’s comments could be chalked up to cliched offseason lip service, but note that his save percentage never dipped below .915 from 2008-09 to 2011-12, including an excellent 2010-11 campaign (37-26-10, .923 save percentage and 2.56 GAA). He’s shown the ability to be solid-to-strong, it’s just been a while.

Let’s not forget how erratic goalie production can be, at least beyond regular elites like Henrik Lundqvist. Many thought Steve Mason was another poor season away from NHL irrelevance, and now he’s the clear No. 1 in Philadelphia. Does that mean the odds are on Ward’s side? Maybe not, but stranger things have happened in this tough-to-predict position.

Report: Bruins sign Krejci to six-year, $43.5M extension

Boston Bruins v Montreal Canadiens - Game Six

If a report from Czech website is correct, David Krejci will carry the biggest salary cap hit of any Boston Bruins player during the 2015-16 season. WEEI’s DJ Bean reports that it’s a six-year, $43.5 million deal with Krejci’s management providing similar information to

TSN’s Aaron Ward has some additional potential details regarding the extension:

In the event that this is true –’s Joe Haggerty points out that neither Krejci nor the Bruins have confirmed it, but also notes that it’s a reasonable possibility – Krejci’s $7.17-$7.25 million cap hit would slightly edge that of Tuukka Rask ($7 million), Zdeno Chara ($6.917 million) and Patrice Bergeron ($6.5 million).

One way or another, the cost won’t be seen right away; the 28-year-old’s current contract carries a $5.25 million cap hit in 2014-15. According to Cap Geek’s numbers, the Bruins will have about $54 million in cap payroll committed to just 11 players in 2014-15, which would translate to about $15 million in cap space if the ceiling remains at $69 million (it probably will be quite a bit higher, but you never know).

However Krejci’s exact contract shakes out, this will also inevitably bring about references to Tyler Seguin’s trade and subsequent breakout year, whether that’s really fair to Krejci or not.

There are plenty of people who are more focused on Krejci making more than Bergeron, Chara and Rask, too.

However, if you merely look outside of comparisons heaped upon the talented center, it’s clear that he’s earned a hefty extension, even if you can quibble about the price. He’s generally been a strong two-way player and topped the playoffs in points in 2013 with 26 in 22 games and 23 points in 25 games during Boston’s championship run in 2011. (Naturally, his last postseason go-around didn’t go quite as well.)

The reality of the cap-era NHL is that plenty of useful players get disparaged because their output doesn’t match sometimes-lofty salaries. Krejci could face quite a burden in that area if these reports are correct, yet he’s done an awful lot for Boston in his career.

Phaneuf would move to left side if Leafs ask

Totonto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf observed his team’s summer of change and expressed his willingness to do adapt, if needed. He told the Toronto Star that he’d be willing to shift from his typical (in Toronto) right side to the left, if asked.

“I played both (sides) my whole career,” Phaneuf said. “When you do what we do, you go where you’re told, you play where you’re going to play. I’m open to either side. Wherever I’m slotted, I’m going to play and do the best I can.”

The Toronto Star points out that the Leafs’ offseason tweaks open up this possibility because they now boast three defensemen with right-handed shots. That extra versatility would allow Phaneuf, 29, to play on his “natural” side considering his lefty shot.

While there are some clear advantages to putting him on the left side, there’s at least one area where the Leafs might want to stick him on the right: the power play. Maple Leafs Hot Stove captures why the hard-shooting blueliner is probably more dangerous on offense this way:

 … Phaneuf is a rare case as a defenceman who plays 5-on-5, PK and PP best when he’s on the right side despite being a left shot. The angles work better for him, his sweet spots on the boards are always in the same spot, and from a young age his slapshot was always used as a weapon in the arsenal of any team he was on. Under the guidance of Randy Carlyle and left in the hands of assistant coach Dave Farrish, Dion Phaneuf’s slapshot has been taken away in favour of “holding the line.”

It started to manifest itself in the playoff series against Boston last spring; Phaneuf, who is uncomfortable playing his correct side at both 5v5 and on the PK, and Franson, who is not the fleetest of foot on the best of days, are getting beat “holding the line” and are spending too much time in their own zone, giving up scoring chances against, unable to gain the zone with any efficiency and set up cleanly.

Really, Phaneuf might benefit more from cushier deployment than tweaks to where he lines up on the ice. Few defensemen of his offensive skills began such a disproportionate amount of their shifts in the defensive zone last season, so maybe others can shoulder some of that burden so he can use that dangerous shot – one of his greatest weapons and one of the reasons he’s getting paid big bucks in the first place – more often?

Either way, the right vs. left side debate is an interesting one. Which way would you lean?

Bettman adds to expansion denial: $1.4B wouldn’t be enough

2014 NHL Draft - Round 1

Gary Bettman and other NHL executives have shot down expansion rumors already this summer, but he provided the Canadian Press with an interesting wrinkle on Wednesday: even if expansion was happening, a $1.4 billion haul in fees for four teams wouldn’t do the trick.

“The part of the story I found particularly difficult was the suggestion we would sell four franchises for $1.4 billion is way too low,” Bettman said. “It undervalues our franchises.”

Bettman was elaborating on his previous denial of an August 26 report from the Sports Business News’ Howard Bloom that the NHL would add four teams (Quebec, Seattle, Las Vegas and an additional Toronto team) by 2017 with that aforementioned $1.4 billion in expansion fees.

Naturally, such a claim won’t stop people from speculation. One can just imagine responses along the lines of “how much would it take for such an estimate to be proper value in the NHL’s eyes?”

Either way, it sounds like expansion speculation will remain just that, at least for now.

Olczyk, Grier named coaches for All-American Prospects Game

US Hockey Hall Of Fame Induction

USA Hockey announced that NBC’s Eddie Olczyk and fellow former NHL player Mike Grier will serve as coaches in the third annual All-American Prospects Game on Sep. 25.

Olczyk (pictured) and Grier will split up 42 American prospects aiming for the 2015 NHL Draft for that event, which will be taking place in Buffalo for the second time.

Grier played enjoyed to stints with the Buffalo Sabres, including the final two campaigns of his lengthy NHL career. Olczyk was recently elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame thanks to his 16-year NHL career and international play, while you likely also notice him as NBC’s lead game analyst.

Tickets are available here if you plan on making the trip to Buffalo.