Ryan Dadoun

Andrew Ladd

Ladd wants to re-sign before season starts

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If captain Andrew Ladd enters the season without a new contract, it will naturally raise questions that he would like to avoid.

“It would be nicer to get it done before the year … especially in a market like this, there are questions every day, so it’d be nice to move past it at some point,” Ladd said, per TSN. “I’ve been around long enough that I know sometimes these things take time. I think both parties are interested in getting something done. All the things add up.”

The 29-year-old forward has one season remaining on his five-year, $22 million contract, but his next deal is expected to be more lucrative. After all, he’s coming off of a campaign where he scored 24 goals and a career-high 62 points.

The Free Press estimated back in July that Ladd would ultimately get “north of $6 million” annually on a contract “worth in the range of $40 million.”

That would be in the same ballpark as the extensions for Brandon Dubinsky (six-year, $35.1 million) and Ryan Callahan (six-year, $34.8 million). All three of those players are fairly close in age and are noteworthy for being able to contribute offensively while maintaining a physical presence. Callahan is also a former captain.

Of course time is running out for Ladd and the Jets to agree to terms before the campaign begins and if they fail to do so, Ladd’s public eagerness to put this behind him will only add fuel to the speculation as to what the sticking point is. Which will, of course, lead to those daily questions.

AHL unveils schedule with California teams playing fewer games

061315 comets mdd
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The American Hockey League announced its schedule for the 2015-16 campaign and it’s an unconventional one.

This will mark the first season with the AHL’s new Pacific Division, which includes five California teams (San Jose Barracuda, Bakersfield Condors, Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, and Stockton Heat). None of those locations hosted AHL teams last season and their presence is something of a geographical hurdle as the most western team after them is the San Antonio Rampage.

What the AHL has done is set up a schedule where those five California teams will play in 68 games while the rest of the league will participate in 76. That’s in contrast to the 2014-15 schedule when every team played in 76 contests.

The league did previously make its intentions regarding the California teams clear, as reported by LA Kings Insider back in June, but at the time it wasn’t clear how this would impact playoff seeding. It’s now known that the AHL will rank teams based on points percentage, which is points earned divided by points available.

The season will begin on Oct. 9 — two days after the NHL’s opening night — and conclude on Apr. 17. You can view the full schedule here.

Lindholm signs two-year extension with Hurricanes

Elias Lindholm

The Carolina Hurricanes announced that they have inked Elias Lindholm to a contract extension that could prove to be a bargain.

Lindholm received a two-year extension that will come with a $2.7 million annual cap hit. He still has a season left on his entry-level contract, so he’s now signed through 2017-18.

“Elias played well last season, nearly doubling his offensive numbers from his rookie year,” said Hurricanes GM Ron Francis. “We expect he will be a very important part of the Hurricanes as he continues to develop as a professional.”

The 20-year-old forward had 17 goals and 39 points in 81 contests as a sophomore in 2014-15. He went on to score two goals and six points in eight games with Sweden during the 2015 World Championship.

Taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Lindholm has the potential to develop into a significant offensive threat.

The Hurricanes’ situation has only added to the importance of Lindholm’s continued development. Eric Staal has declined in recent years and might not even be with Carolina beyond 2015-16 as he’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. Carolina is also coping with the uncertain future of 23-year-old Jeff Skinner given his injury history and his disappointing showing in 2014-15.

Related: Hurricanes’ biggest question: Where will the goals come from?

Under pressure: Mike Johnston

Mike Johnston
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The Pittsburgh Penguins fired coach Dan Bylsma because claiming division titles isn’t good enough for a franchise trying to win more than one championship while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still in their prime. Mike Johnston was hired to do better, but that’s not what happened in 2014-15. Penguins executive David Morehouse claimed that the team never seriously considered firing Johnston after that, but will that change if Pittsburgh fails to live up to expectations again?

Johnston’s Penguins were effective for much of the regular season, but a late season collapse nearly ended their playoff berth streak and they dropped four out of five games against the New York Rangers in the first round. Internally, injuries were reportedly viewed as a primary cause for the Penguins’ 2014-15 shortcomings and it certainly is true that they didn’t have Kris Letang or Pascal Dupuis during that first round series.

At the same time, the team’s scoring depth was a big problem too and it’s one GM Jim Rutherford hopes he addressed this summer with the additions of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr, and Matt Cullen. Adding a player of Kessel’s caliber in particular raises expectations, but it also emphasizes the immediacy of the Penguins’ window for a few different reasons.

First and foremost, the Penguins gave up a top prospect in Kasperi Kapanen and a conditional first-round draft pick to get him, further depleting their pool of prospects. Secondly, Phil Kessel will turn 28 in October and while that’s not old even by NHL standards, it is roughly in line with the ages of Malkin, Crosby, Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Of that group, Fleury was the first to enter his 30s and as the rest of them follow suit, diminishing returns will become an increasing concern that’s compounded by the fact that they’re all signed to expensive long-term contracts that consume a lot of Pittsburgh’s cap space.

Which is to say that Pittsburgh can’t afford to be squandering seasons and if Johnston isn’t the guy to lead them to a Stanley Cup championship, then the Penguins have to make a change sooner rather than later. That’s not to suggest that Johnston shouldn’t be the coach in 2015-16, but it does mean that the pressure on him to deliver the best possible outcome couldn’t be higher.

Pittsburgh Penguins ’15-16 Outlook

Kris Letang
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The Pittsburgh Penguins have two of the league’s best forwards in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but last season they lacked the offensive depth to sufficiently back them up. GM Jim Rutherford is hoping he addressed that issue this summer, but there is still a big X-factor with this team.

Starting with the positives, newcomer Phil Kessel is one of the league’s top goal scorers and pairing him up with a superb playmaker like Crosby should make for a great combination. Combined with Patric Hornqvist, Malkin, David Perron, and Chris Kunitz and the Penguins have the potential to feature two very effective lines. Summer additions Eric Fehr and Nick Bonino will also provide the Penguins with some all-important depth up the middle.

After that though, their bottom-six gets a little hazy.

Theoretically, Pascal Dupuis would be an ideal presence on their third line and wouldn’t look out of place if the Penguins opt to put him in their top-six, but he’s also played in just 55 games over the last two seasons due to a torn ACL and a blood clot. Even if we presume that his health issues are behind him, one has to wonder if the long layoffs have negatively impacted the 36-year-old forward. The Penguins might be penciling Beau Bennett for a third line role as well, but he’s had injury problems too and hasn’t developed as hoped.

Health issues have unfortunately been a running theme for the Penguins.

They’re counting on Kris Letang to anchor their defense, but the 69 games he played last season represented a personal best since 2010-2011. Even Malkin is a question mark at this point, as he’s only surpassed the 70-game mark once since 2008-2009.

Now to be fair, if the biggest knock is “they might get hurt,” then that’s arguably a sign that there are not a lot of issues to begin with.

After all, the Penguins core — when healthy — is among the most impressive in the league. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury can be firmly listed as part of that foundation as well as his performance over the last two campaigns has run contrary to the old narrative that he gets worse under the heightened pressure of the playoffs.

The jury is still out on the Penguins’ depth though and those aforementioned injury problems can’t be casually dismissed. This is a team that has been among the most prone to health problems from 2009-10 onward, according to Man Games Lost.

If that trend ends though, then this should be a very dangerous team.