Tag: Chicago Blackhawks

Anze Kopitar

Los Angeles Kings ’15-16 Outlook

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It’s probably safe to say this about the rest of the NHL’s perception of the Los Angeles Kings: they don’t know exactly what to expect, but they’re scared.

After all, this is a two-time Stanley Cup champion team that hasn’t won a division title; opponents know not to disregard them at this point. The Kings have made a strange (and unintentional) habit of following underwhelming regular seasons with blistering playoff runs.

Of course, in 2014-15, they didn’t do enough to even limp into the postseason.

The Kings finished the regular season with 95 standings points, four short of the Winnipeg Jets at the final wild card spot.

That’s not a huge margin, yet it was still a shocking plummet for the defending champs.

GM Dean Lomabrdi seemed to hint that the Kings failed to find that extra gear, but getting a longer-than-expected rest might just have its perks.

“Well, this time there’s no excuse,” Lombardi said to NHL.com. “It’s a marvelous opportunity for our top players to take over that room, and they start by doing that, becoming the best they can be, and I think they will. There’s no doubt in my mind what guys like [Anze] Kopitar and [Jonathan] Quick and [Drew] Doughty stand for, and hopefully this is an awakening. It’s no fun watching the playoffs. In the long run, we could benefit from this.”

Greed could be good

If extra rest isn’t enough, one other thing shouldn’t be overlooked: important players are fighting for more than just pride.

At least a part of Anze Kopitar must see dollar signs when he notes the sort of money Jonathan Toews will pull in starting next season with his own deal just a year from expiring. Kopitar’s $6.8 million cap hit may very well look like a bargain compared to what he’ll start to make in 2016-17.

Milan Lucic is also fighting for a new contract, but he also hopes to restore his reputation as a top power forward in the NHL.

He struggled to score with David Krejci injured, and even if there are plenty of factors at play, it’s difficult to ignore that the Bruins are retaining $2.75 million of his cap hit this season.

Lucic – Kopitar – Marian Gaborik is a frightening combination of size and skill in any scenario, yet it’s downright terrifying with two-thirds of that group in contract years.

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Few would be brave enough to dismiss the Kings chances of making the playoffs in 2015-16. Could the same be said about anyone doubting their championship hopes, too?

(You can further discuss their window of contention here.)

Ducks continue to load up with one-year deal for Santorelli

Mark Barberio, Mike Santorelli
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The team that made the 2015 Stanley Cup champions sweat the most just keeps getting better.

The Anaheim Ducks added another piece to their war chest on Monday, signing Mike Santorelli to a one-year contract. Anaheim didn’t provide financial details, but ESPN’s Craig Custance reports that it’s worth $875K.

Jonathan Toews said the Ducks were the toughest team his champion Chicago Blackhawks faced during the 2015 postseason, and it seems like the Ducks are trying to cover every conceivable reason why they fell short of beating the ‘Hawks.

By adding Carl Hagelin and now Santorelli, 29, to the mix, Anaheim is a much faster team; they also boast a fleet-footed defense and fellow speedster Andrew Cogliano.

The Ducks’ mix now boasts a little extra beef and experience in bringing in Chris Stewart, Kevin Bieksa and Shawn Horcoff.

Remarkably, the franchise still boasts a ton of cap space, so they can make a splash at the trade deadline next season if they identify a missing piece.

Speaking of trade deadline pickups, Santorelli was part of a deal that didn’t really work out for his most recent team. The Nashville Predators gave up a boatload of assets for Santorelli and current UFA Cody Franson, yet neither really fit the bill.

Getting acquainted with linemates during training camp could be a big difference-maker for a quality depth forward like Santorelli, however, and it’s a pretty low-risk move for the Ducks.

Many are quite excited about the work GM Bob Murray has done this summer, by the way:

Indeed, it’s a pretty intriguing mix in Anaheim:

Would you pencil the Ducks in as the Cup favorites at this point? If not, where would they belong?

Poll: Are the Lightning the favorites to win the Stanley Cup?

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six
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Standing still can be better than the alternative. While any improvement the Tampa Bay Lightning see will have to come from within after their quiet summer, they also haven’t endured any major losses.

Chicago was the oddsmaker’s favorites to repeat in mid-June, but since then the Blackhawks have parted ways with Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, Brandon Saad, and Johnny Oduya. To be fair, Chicago has also gotten some noteworthy additions like Artem Anisimov and they have some promising youngsters that might help fill the gaps like Artemy Panarin and Marko Dano.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the Blackhawks have made some considerable sacrifices this summer in the name of cap compliance and that’s without talking about the elephant in the room.

Tampa Bay finished two wins shy of Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final, so has the uncertainty created by Chicago’s turnover at least made the Blackhawks not quite as good of a bet as the Lightning?

Of course, even if you’re inclined to say that Tampa Bay is now in a better position than Chicago, that’s not the end of the debate. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens have strong teams led by elite goaltenders and either one is capable of having a standout season. Then there’s the Anaheim Ducks, which came closer to eliminating Chicago than Tampa Bay and the St. Louis Blues, which has fielded a great team for years, but hasn’t been able to put it all together once the playoffs start — yet.

You could bet on a Los Angeles Kings comeback or the Pittsburgh Penguins’ overwhelming squads with Phil Kessel joining Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Even then we haven’t covered all the teams that can legitimately claim to be serious contenders going into the season.

But this isn’t about who could win the Cup, it’s who has the best chance of doing so, even if it is by a narrow margin in a large field. Is Tampa Bay that team?

It’s Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT

Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos
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The Tampa Bay Lightning fell two wins short of the summit. At least they boast the sort of young legs that can hoist them back to similar heights, though, right?

Jonathan Toews was impressed with the push-back from Tampa Bay in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, even if he delivered that message in the form of a backhanded compliment. Negative types would say 2014-15 was a year of almost – nearly winning the division, coming that close to a Cup win – but most would agree that last year a big success.

The question is: will the Lightning look back at that run as the time they learned how to win the big game?

Time hasn’t always been kind to teams who fall in Stanley Cup Final rounds, although the Lightning have the makings of a team that could be here to say, perhaps running parallel to the Penguins (who lost in 2008 before winning it all in 2009).

Most obviously, the Lightning have the same coach and the same core players.

Off-season recap

Of course, one can look at that bounty of prime-age assets and think that the Lightning can make this last for ages.

Unless you’re a huge Brenden Morrow fan, the main cast members from the 2014-15 Bolts are returning for the sequel. The biggest changes are expected to be from internal growth: Jonathan Drouin may take a bigger role, Andrei Vasilevskiy could push Ben Bishop for starts and others hope to become full-time NHL players.

The biggest consideration comes when you ponder contracts that end after 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Most obviously, Steven Stamkos is in the last year of his contract, a fact that will likely make for distracting headlines.

One piece of “The Triplets” – Nikita Kucherov – will be an RFA after 2015-16. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat will carry that same RFA status after 2017-18, and one would expect big upgrades from their matching $3.33 million cap hits. Even the goalie duo of Bishop and Vasilevskiy only hold two-year deals.

A quiet summer makes sense for the Lightning, yet it’s a bit foreboding, as many would prefer to see “Stamkos signs seven-year mega-deal” in this slot. Yzerman still has time to swing deals like those both before, during and after 2015-16, but looming cap challenges are the elephant in the room.

That’s a bummer for the future, yet the Lightning seem well-stocked for the shorter term.

Johnson’s broken wrist recovering on schedule

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One
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Tyler Johnson’s broken wrist is “recovering on the time line” it’s supposed to, he told the Tampa Bay Times yesterday.

The dynamic Lightning forward has been able to remove the brace he was forced to wear and said he’s “going to do everything I possibly can to be ready” for training camp.

Johnson broke his right wrist in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Blackhawks. He went into the series as a legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy candidate, but was held to just one goal and one assist as Chicago beat the Bolts in six games.

Despite the injury, Johnson still finished the postseason with 23 points, tied for the lead with Patrick Kane.