Tag: Jeff Schultz


Under Pressure: Steve Mason


The 2013-14 campaign was very, very good to Steve Mason.

Aside from getting his career as a bonafide No. 1 netminder back on track, the performance also netted him a handsome three-year, $12.3 million deal — one that pays $4.1M annually — and cemented him as Philly’s go-to guy for the foreseeable future.

“If you look at this season in a nutshell, he was good when the team was real bad early in the year,” then-Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said of the deal. “And the last little while, as the team’s gotten better, I think Steve has played up and down a little bit. We expect him to get better over the next three-plus years with the team and grow with the team.

“He’s a good goalie, and we believe he’s going to get better. That’s why we did what we did.”

That last part is key. The Flyers expect Mason to get better over the life of his contract and next year, the first of the extension, he’ll probably need to be.

Defensively, Philly has some red flags. The club finished 20th in the NHL in goals allowed (2.77 GAA), led the league in penalty minutes and was shorthanded the second-most times (316), second only to Ottawa. While the Flyers’ solid penalty kill bailed them out routinely — the PK finished seventh in the NHL last year, at 84.8 percent — a couple of key performers from the unit are now out of action: Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) and Adam Hall (signed in Switzerland), who finished third and fourth on the team in total shorthanded TOI last season.

Timonen’s unavailability also accentuates Philly’s issues on D.

There are two significant problems: 1) the group doesn’t feature a clear-cut No. 1, “stud” that most elite teams tend to employ, and 2) it doesn’t have a ton of depth. Prior to signing Michael Del Zotto, Philly was looking at a top-six comprised of Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann and Nick Schultz. Del Zotto helps the depth out a bit, and the Flyers will pray their health on the back end mirrors last year’s (it doesn’t garner a lot of attention, but Philly’s blueline went almost injury-free last season. Streit, Coburn, Schenn, Timonen and Grossman combined to miss just 12 games.)

Hextall is trying to look at the situation optimistically as well.

“I like our defense,” he said, per NJ.com. “I’ve said it time and time again. We maybe don’t have that top guy, that No. 1 guy, but probably 20 teams in the league say the same thing. We’re going to go with the guys we’ve got.”

All of this, of course, circles back to Mason. As the last line of defense, he fared well last year and shone in his first playoff action in five years, posting a .939 save percentage over the final five games of Philly’s opening-round loss to the Rangers. But now, he’ll need to show year-to-year consistency — something that was an issue in Columbus — and carry the weight of expectation. When he arrived in Philly, Mason was a reclamation project playing on a cheap deal. Now, he’s one of the NHL’s 20 highest-paid goalies and will be looked upon to backstop the Flyers into a second straight postseason.

The last time Mason faced similar expectations was as a Blue Jacket, following a rookie year in which he won the Calder and finished second in Vezina voting. Things went south after that, and the Flyers hope they’re not in line for a repeat performance.

Ovechkin thinks very little of plus/minus

Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the fourth time last season with 51 goals, but perhaps the statistic that sticks out most from his 2013-14 campaign is his minus-35 rating.

It was the worst in Washington by 14 points and third from the bottom in 2013-14. He also joined Toronto’s Phil Kessel as the only members of the top-10 goal scoring list to finish with a negative plus/minus rating.

He used that as ammunition when he was recently asked how he felt by the end of last season.

“I am very happy that I didn’t become the worst in the plus/minus category,” Ovechkin told SovSport in an interview translated by Puck Daddy. “I had minus-35. Steve Ott and Alex Edler jumped ahead of me. Can you imagine scoring 51 goals and getting minus-40? I would have made history!”

The interviewer brought up Sergei Gonchar’s past criticism about the use of plus/minus and Ovechkin took that opportunity to expand on the point.

“With the help of the plus/minus contracts can be obtained,” the 28-year-old forward said. “Once our defenseman Jeff Schultz was plus-50. He was plus-5 in the last game. And he signed a contract for four years averaging $2.75 million [Ovechkin makes big eyes]. And then his contract was bought out, and he signed for only $700,000 a year. Jeff is a good guy. But these plus/minus stats say very little about a player himself or the game as a whole.”

While plus/minus might not always be a great reflection of how a player performed, it is fair to say that the Capitals as a team had defensive issues last season. They hope some of that will be addressed by allowing goaltender Braden Holtby to play a style that he’s more comfortable with, the additions of defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, and bringing in Barry Trotz to serve as the team’s head coach.

That last change will impact Ovechkin, but for now he’s taking a wait-and-see approach. He acknowledged it’s difficult to change, but he’s been through this several times over the last few years, so he knows what to expect.

Looking to make the leap: Brayden McNabb

Brayden McNabb

If there’s something we’ve learned from watching the Los Angeles Kings the past few seasons it’s that keeping an eye on their young players is worth doing.

After watching Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson take the playoffs by storm this past season and Alec Martinez and Dwight King do the same in 2012, there’s always new faces to be mindful of. One such player next season could be defenseman Brayden McNabb.

The Kings acquired McNabb from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline this past season and at 23 years old, he’s got all the makings of being a new, physical force on L.A.’s blue line.

Last season, McNabb was an AHL All-Star with the Rochester Americans. In 38 games with Rochester, he had seven goals and 29 points. While he had a chance to play a bit in Buffalo (12 games, no points, six penalty minutes), he was sent to the Kings and broke out with the Manchester Monarchs.

In 14 regular season games there, he had three goals with seven points and 18 penalty minutes. He had one assist in four playoff games for the Monarchs and was a “Black Ace” for the Kings during their run to the Stanley Cup, but it’s his 6-foot-4 and 205 pound frame that has the team holding out high hopes.

The Kings lost Willie Mitchell to the Florida Panthers in free agency, potentially opening a spot in their top-six. According to those close to the team, McNabb will get every chance in training camp to win the job.

McNabb will have serious competition against veterans Robyn Regehr and Jeff Schultz, but even if he doesn’t win right away, we’ve seen what happens with young Kings players as the season winds down and the playoffs ramp up. With a heavy shot and a physical game, he could be paired with Slava Voynov at some point.

Mitchell replacement? Kings re-sign McNabb to two-year deal

Brayden McNabb

If Los Angeles Kings fans don’t know Brayden McNabb yet, they may get to do so next season.

The Kings announced they’ve re-signed the 23-year-old defenseman to a two-year contract. John Hoven at Mayor’s Manor reports the deal is worth $1.3 million.

According to Hoven, McNabb’s immediate future with the Kings may see him getting a shot to replace Willie Mitchell in their top-six and he’ll be given every opportunity to win a spot playing alongside Slava Voynov in training camp. The Kings acquired him from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline in March.

McNabb stands at 6-foot-4 and 204 pounds and plays a physical game. Sounds a bit like Voynov’s former defensive partner who signed with the Florida Panthers on July 1. McNabb’s competition for ice time will be against veterans Robyn Regehr and Jeff Schultz. If Regehr is healthy, he may have a tough time breaking through.

Kings re-sign Schultz to two-year contract extension

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five

After spending almost the entire 2013-14 season in the American Hockey League, defenseman Jeff Schultz has agreed to a two-year contract extension with the L.A. Kings.

According to the blog MayorsManor, the 28-year-old Schultz will earn $850,000 in each of the next two seasons.

Schultz played the entire regular season with the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings’ AHL affiliate, but was called up to L.A. for the Stanley Cup playoffs and with veteran Willie Mitchell hurt. He appeared in seven post-season games, including the first game of the Western Conference final against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Schultz was forced to clear waivers in September after L.A.’s training camp wrapped up. The Kings initially signed Schultz to a one-year, $700,000 contract last July. Prior to that, he was initially placed on waivers for the purpose of a compliance buyout when he was a member of the Washington Capitals.