Jonathan Toews

It’s Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT

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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.

EA Sports takes Patrick Kane off of NHL 16’s cover

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EA Sports announced that Patrick Kane will not appear on the cover of their upcoming video game NHL 16.

Here’s the statement they released on Wednesday:

If that tweet is giving you trouble, here’s the text of the release:

“In light of the ongoing investigation involving Patrick Kane, he will no longer be a spokesperson for the launch of EA Sports NHL 16.

He will not appears on the cover nor participate in other promotional activities.”

The original plan called for Kane to be on the cover of the title with Jonathan Toews. It would have been a callback to the past, as Kane was the cover star for NHL 10 while Toews took over that role for NHL 11.

Instead, it appears that Toews will be alone for NHL 16:

ESPN’s Katie Strang reports that Kane, 26, may lose other sponsors depending upon how the ongoing rape investigation turns out.

Andrew Ladd reminds us: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is back

Last summer, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge generated a ton of donations – and almost ubiquitous videos, sometimes ones that were very ambitious – for charity.

Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Ladd tweeted his submission along with the hashtag #EveryAugustUntilACure on Tuesday, reminding hockey fans that the drive is going again in 2015.

He challenged Jonathan Toews, teammate Adam Lowry and TV personality Cabbie Richards to continue the icy promotion in his tweet and clip:

Hey, we can let the your/you’re thing slide just this once, Laddie.

As a bonus, here are a few memorable Ice Bucket Challenge entries from last summer.

Apparently Jonathan Toews already did one, does that exempt him from Ladd’s challenge?

To little surprise, Roberto Luongo’s submission brought some laughs:

Ryan Kesler did his part:

P.K. Subban would take the NHL-version cake:

… If it weren’t for BizNasty:

Yeah, it will require a bucket of creativity to top 2014.

What does Jack Eichel mean to the Buffalo Sabres?

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It takes a special type of player to dramatically alter the perception of your franchise and the mood of the fanbase before playing a single minute in the NHL, but Jack Eichel is not your typical high-end draft pick.

He’s the reason over 17,000 fans in Buffalo wanted to see a prospects scrimmage in July. By extension Eichel is the primary source of the optimism surrounding the team despite the fact that the Sabres are coming off of a 23-51-8 record.

In fact, that might even been underselling his impact because as an American he has the potential to accomplish things that no other U.S.-born talent has done before.

That’s what he is to the fans, but just how important was taking him to the Buffalo Sabres? What would it have meant to this franchise if it had missed out on the rare opportunity to draft a player of Eichel’s potential?

Getting Eichel, regardless of how well he does, isn’t nearly enough to guarantee the Sabres an era of long playoff runs and one or more championships. He doesn’t change the fact that Buffalo’s goaltending is an X-Factor, that they’re still dependent on several other prospects to breakout, or that they need forwards like Evander Kane to bounce back to help close the massive gap that existed between the Sabres offensively in 2014-15 and even just the league average. Buffalo still needs plenty of work and that’s true with or without Eichel.

And yet, while Buffalo might ultimately end up with little to show for the Eichel era, even if he proves to be a superb forward, he is the foundation that gives this franchise a good fighting chance at a championship in the mid-term.

He’s potentially a top-tier center, which is something most serious Stanley Cup contenders have and isn’t typically available on the free agent or trade markets unless you happen to be Jim Nill. Beyond that, he’s a potential “big-time” player and those are equally rare and near essential for success.

For much of the last six seasons, Chicago would have been a team with depth, a great defense, and significant scoring threats even if Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were simply good rather than the elite forwards they have proven themselves to be. But that one downgrade alone might have proven to be the difference between a franchise locked in a dynasty debate and one that enjoyed some deep playoff runs without ever lifting the Stanley Cup.

As Mike Babcock put it in April when talking about the aging Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, “In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

That’s what Eichel represents to Buffalo. Even if he lives up to the hype, he’s just a piece of the puzzle, but he’s one of the toughest ones to find.

How do Voracek, Giroux compare to the most expensive duos?

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How would you rate Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux compared to the other elite duos in the league?

Once Voracek’s new eight-year, $66 million extension begins in 2016-17, the Flyers top two forwards will cost a little over $16.5 million annually in cap space. There are just three duos that are currently more expensive: Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews ($21 million combined), Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby ($18.2 million), and Anaheim’s Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf ($16.9 million).

That’s some pretty tough company to be compared to. Toews and Kane have led Chicago to three Stanley Cup championships while Malkin and Crosby have also won the Cup and combined for three Hart Trophies. Perry and Getzlaf have their names on the Cup too and while that was back in 2007, Perry is also a Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard Trophy winner while Getzlaf has ranked fourth in total points over the last three seasons.

By comparison, over the four seasons since Voracek was acquired from Columbus, the Flyers have only won one playoff series and neither Voracek or Giroux have claimed a major award. The closest either came was when Giroux finished third in the Hart Trophy vote in 2014.

That being said, even if the top items of their resumes don’t measure up to some of the other elite duos, they certainly compare favorably in other ways. Over the last three season, Voracek and Giroux have combined for 396 points, putting them behind Malkin/Crosby (419), but ahead of Perry/Getzlaf (379), and Toews/Kane (370). On top of that, at 25 years old (26 in August), Voracek is the youngest player of those listed, so he’s had the least amount of time to work on his resume.

Finally, there’s the matter of the team built around each set of elite forwards. Philadelphia over the last few years has suffered under the weight of bloated contracts to older players. Part of that has come from a need to use band aid solutions defensively to compensate for a lack of desirable homegrown blueline options. With some promising defensemen now developing in the Flyers’ system, perhaps that will change.

Because at the end of the day, it won’t be about how many points Voracek or Giroux accumulate in the regular season. That’s certainly is relevant, but they will ultimately be judged on what happens in future playoff runs.