Ryan Dadoun

Pavel Zacha

Good start: Top-10 pick Zacha ‘was fantastic’ at development camp

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You can’t read too much into development camp, but it seems Pavel Zacha couldn’t have made a better impression on Devils GM Ray Shero.

“I thought he was fantastic,” Shero told the Bergen Record. “That was the feedback we gave him today. I think that was from the entire staff. Very professional, very mature. He roomed with Damon Severson this week and they were really good together, but I think Pavel passed that on as well in terms of getting to know everybody here whether it was a draft pick or a tryout or just really dealing with people. So, I thought he did a real good job on and off the ice.”

Zacha also impressed John Hynes with his work ethic. The bench boss also noted that he’s “very coachable.”

The 18-year-old forward was taken with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Although expectations always have to be tempered when talking about a player that young, the hope is that he’ll eventually play a big role on a Devils’ team that has ranked in the bottom-five in goals per game for the last three seasons.

He might even make the team out of training camp, but for that to even be possible he needs to sign an entry-level contract in the not too distant future. That’s because he’s tied to the Czech Republic squad Liberec and there’s a Aug. 18 deadline to get players that are under contract in Europe signed in order for them to be eligible to play in the NHL next season.

As it is the Devils will have to pay a $100,000 transfer fee because they didn’t get his deal done before the first deadline on July 15.

That being said, Shero said there haven’t been any “red flags” in the contract talks.

Related: Get to know a draft pick — Pavel Zacha

Lack of cap room has made for ‘really difficult’ summer for some free agents

Cody Franson
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There are always going to be solid unrestricted free agents that have trouble finding a contract that lives up to expectations, but even in that context this year feels different, according to one longtime agent.

“It’s tough,” the agent told the Columbus Dispatch. “There are plenty of teams interested in adding a player, but they don’t have (salary cap) room. It’s just not there.

“So either they’re trying to make moves to accomodate that, or they’re waiting for the market to adjust. There’s plenty of time. It’s the middle of July. But it’s been really difficult for a lot of guys this summer.”

Thirteen teams have less than $5 million in remaining cap space, according to General Fanager. That number doesn’t include the New York Rangers, which still needs to re-sign RFA Derek Stepan, or the Los Angeles Kings, which might be in limbo as they wait to see how the contract situations with Slava Voynov and Mike Richards play out. So it’s not hard to argue that half the league has little to no cap space remaining. Of course, that doesn’t even start to factor in teams that are expected to stay significantly below the ceiling due to their own internal budgets, rebuilding strategy, or both.

Meanwhile, there are 22 UFAs remaining that came with a cap hit of at least $3 million last season.

There are of course going to be more noteworthy signings, but for teams that have space and the flexibility to add salary, this is a potentially great opportunity to improve their squad at a reduced price. We also might see more salary dumping trades before the 2015-16 campaign starts.

Related: There are some interesting players left on the UFA market

Toews: With new contracts there’s ‘more pressure than ever’

Jonathan Toews
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Expectations are nothing new to Chicago Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but even for them next season might be different.

In all likelihood, they will enter the campaign as the top two players from a salary cap perspective thanks to their matching eight-year, $84 million contracts kicking in. That pay raise from their previous five-year, $31.5 million deals combined with a smaller cap increase than expected has squeezed the defending Stanley Cup champions, leading to them parting ways with Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, and Brandon Saad over the summer.

None of that is to suggest that Kane and Toews aren’t worth top dollar after leading Chicago to three Stanley Cup champions, but they are aware that the expectations thrust upon them will only increase with their salary.

“As soon as the next season starts everyone tends to forget about what happened last year and it’s time to go to work again,” Toews told the Chicago Tribune. “We’ve shown we can do that and we know given the fact we just lost … important teammates and the focus is on us and our contract that there is more pressure than ever.”

Kane has thought about it a bit this summer too and realizes that that he will be expected to “live up to that contract.”

The good news from Chicago’s perspective is that the duo has been able to step up in the past under pressure, so it’s not unreasonable to believe that they will be able to rise to the occasion again. That being said, they’ve never single handily won anything for Chicago nor can they do so going forward. A big part of the Blackhawks’ strength has been their superb supporting cast and with some key members of it now gone, the pressure will be on others to step up and fill the void as much as it will be on Kane and Toews to continue to lead the charge.

Report: Blue Jackets have interest in Ehrhoff

Christian Ehrhoff
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Will Christian Ehrhoff’s long wait for a new contract end with him joining the Columbus Blue Jackets?

It seems that there have been discussions between the two sides, according the Columbus Dispatch’s sources. It was previously reportedly that Columbus went after Dougie Hamilton, Paul Martin, and Kevin Shattenkirk over the course of the offseason in an attempt to bolster their defense, so Ehrhoff would be the latest in a long line of targets.

The problem at this point is that Columbus is close to the cap after acquiring and signing Brandon Saad. Ehrhoff’s agent has already said that his client is open to another one-year contract after completing his $4 million deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2014-15 campaign. If he’s willing to be accommodating from a financial standpoint as well, then the Blue Jackets might be able to fit him in under the ceiling.

It’s possible that this situation will drag on as Ehrhoff might wait to see if other more lucrative options materialize, assuming that there aren’t already such prospects on the table.

Ehrhoff was limited to 49 games in 2014-15 due to injuries and finished with three goals and 14 points.

Schneider suggested 3-on-3 OT goalie stats should be kept separate

Cory Schneider
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With the latest rule changes to the structure of overtime, has it become so different from the rest of the game that those 3-on-3 minutes should be kept separate statistically, just like shootouts? New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider argued in favor of such a distinction.

“It’s going to be interesting for the goalies,” Schneider said of the decision to adopt the new overtime format, per ESPN. “I was a passenger during that discussion. I suggested a side category where a goalie’s 3-on-3 stats could be hidden away and not put into your main stats, because it’s going to be tough. There’s so much talent in the NHL and sometimes 5-on-5 opens up, but 3-on-3 is going to open up and fans are really going to love it. It’s going to be up and down the ice. It’s going to be hard for us goalies, so we’re going to have to be really sharp and ready to go.”

Of course, the hope is that 3-on-3 overtime has the impact Schneider is suggesting as that would lead to fewer games being decided by a shootout. It also has the potential to hurt the statistics of goalies for the very same reason.

As far as whether or not that’s reason enough to separate those statistics is open to different opinions. As it is there are a lot of different situations that play out over the course of an NHL game that get lumped together if you only look at the base numbers. In 2014-15, Joe Thornton’s five empty-net goals were worth the same as Tyler Toffoli’s five shorthanded markers as far as overall statistics were concerned, just as 3-on-3 play during regulation time would be counted together with 5-on-5 actions.

That being said, with the rise of analytics fans have the luxury of filtering out certain scenarios if they choose to do so. For example, if you want to attempt to evaluate players on a more consistently level field by only looking at 5-on-5 play, you can do that. So in a way, each person will get to decide for themselves if the new overtime play should be counted alongside everything else.