Author: Joe Yerdon

Phil Kessel

Columnist: Leafs should get Kessel deal done before Christmas


Phil Kessel is headed into the final year of his contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs and that’s got some in Toronto hoping they’ll get an extension done soon.

One of those people is the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox and he has a timetable and a contract suggestion for GM Dave Nonis to consider.

…an eight-year deal in the $70 million range is in the offing, and all indications are that Kessel wants to stay in Toronto and that the Leafs are determined to keep him and pay him the huge money.

If that’s the case, the Leafs need get this matter wrapped up before Christmas, rather than have it linger into next winter and close to the trade deadline.

Getting a new deal done for him sooner than later is almost certainly a good idea. An eight-year, $70 million deal for Kessel may sound outrageous until you consider he’ll be just 26 years old next summer and truly coming into his prime now.

It’s probably a good thing the salary cap is going up after this season and beyond because Leafs GM Dave Nonis is going to need all the room he can muster with Kessel and Dion Phaneuf both eligible for free agency next year.

Report: Salary cap could rise to $80 million in four years

Dave Nonis

There’s good news for players whose contracts are expiring in the near future. The salary cap could be sky-high in just a few years.

CBC’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto yesterday (via The Score) that some NHL insiders believe the salary cap could rise as high as $80 million in just four years. The cap this season is set at $64.3 million.

The cap going up isn’t a surprise but the possibility of seeing it rise as much as $16 million in just four seasons is something many teams may not be prepared for. Last season, teams got to spend up to just over $70 million but had to come back down this year.

The cap is expected to rise again next season which could (is?) making negotiations with potential future free agents awkward.

Take a look at the New York Rangers who have Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, and Dan Girardi as potential unrestricted free agents next summer. GM Dave Nonis could be in a bind as well with the Toronto Maple Leafs as both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf can hit the market as well.

General managers may have to sit tight and wait to see how high it could be before really opening their owners’ wallets.

Vladimir Tarasenko is St. Louis’ X-factor

Vladimir Tarasenko

When Vladimir Tarasenko arrived on the scene last year from Russia, he came in with a lot of mystery.

A lot of familiar questions were raised: Would he adapt well to the North American game? Would he struggle with in a defensive system like the Blues have? Go ahead and insert any tired cliché about Russians.

What he did do, however, was show what he was all about right away scoring twice in his first game (including in highlight fashion) and piling up five points in his first two.

It wasn’t all fun and games, however. His production slowed down and then he suffered a concussion in mid-February that kept him out of action for a month. After that, his production slowed even more and his minutes were cut down. As it was, Tarasenko played in just one game in the playoffs.

As Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, Ken Hitchcock thinks he could be in for a big season because he’ll be more comfortable this time around.

 “He’s not going to be surprised by anything, he’s going to be way more ready, so I think our hope is that you see a player more comfortable, more composed, more assured of himself and I think this year we’ll get a really good evaluation. In talking to him, he’s about as far away as you can get from sophomore jinx. He’s hungry, he’s focused. Now you get to see his natural ability on a daily basis.”

The Blues will need him to be all that and then some. Hitchcock notes they were comfortable dealing David Perron because they wanted to make room, and get more minutes, for Tarasenko.

The team is doing what it can to help him break out and if he can do it, he can give them something they’ve lacked over the years: A bonafide gamebreaking scorer. If he can’t take that step, however, the Blues will have to hope their grinding style can lead them to the promised land.

Lightning assistant Gwozdecky discusses sudden firing from college job

Garret Allen, Zac Larraza, George Gwozdecky

New Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach George Gwozdecky is getting his first taste of work in the NHL at age 60 and it’s not something he planned on doing.

This summer, Gwozdecky was suddenly fired as head coach at the University of Denver. After 19 seasons, two national championships, and numerous conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances he was out of work.

As Erik Erlendsson of The Tampa Tribune reports, it’s something he’s still smarting over.

“I don’t think you ever get over being jilted, whether it’s your first high school dance and the pretty girl in the corner says, ‘Get lost,'” Gwozdecky said. “That’s kind of tough to take the rejection. But certainly I’ve got a lot more positive feelings about our years and the people I worked with, the great players I worked with, than with one person’s decision.”

Sounds like his time in high school was eerily similar to mine.

With Gwozdecky now in Tampa, he’ll be reunited with one of his former players in Matt Carle. If that reunion works out for Carle, it’ll give a lift to Tampa’s defense and that’s something they could really use this season.

It’s St. Louis Blues day on PHT

Phoenix Coyotes v St. Louis Blues

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The St. Louis Blues.

Last season, the Blues again played a tough, physical brand of hockey and found their way to the postseason with hopes of a Stanley Cup. Once again, however, they found their hopes dashed in a loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

After another disappointing exit, Ken Hitchcock’s team looks to once again clamp down on the Western Conference.

After rumors of late-season discord proved to be untrue, they head into the new season with some minor changes being made and more goaltending than they may know what to do with. Can Hitchcock’s gang learn from their recent postseason disappointments and take the next step? That, friends, is the million dollar question.

Offseason recap

The Blues were odd this summer in that they seemed to not do much but were very busy. They were taken by surprise by Andy McDonald’s sudden decision to retire thanks to concussions and replaced him with free agent playmaking center Derek Roy. He and captain David Backes could become a scoring duo right away.

Acquiring centers was the thing for them to do as they also added Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Bolduc for depth and Maxim Lapierre for extra special added annoyance, even though he’d rather be in Montreal.

Their most notable move was dealing David Perron to Edmonton for young winger Magnus Paajarvi (link). Perron had reached the end of his rope with Hitchcock and the Oilers ran out of patience with Paajarvi. Hey, a mutually beneficial change of scenery deal!

St. Louis wasn’t too active in signing other team’s players because GM Doug Armstrong had a host of their own to take care of. Restricted free agents Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Patrik Berglund all inked new deals.

Meanwhile, prized defenseman Alex Pietrangelo still remains unsigned. At least the Blues have plenty of cap space to fend off any potential offer sheets.

Provided Pietrangelo gets back in the mix (and he will) the Blues will be strong once again and will have to deal with Chicago and Minnesota in the new Central Division for the playoffs. Getting to the postseason is nice and all, but they have a bigger goal in mind.


Introducing: PHT’s ‘Team of the Day’ summer series