Patrick Kane

Stamkos extension ‘No. 1 priority’ this offseason, says Yzerman

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Less than 48 hours after losing the Stanley Cup Final, Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman was already back at work.

During Wednesday’s end-of-year media availability, Yzerman told reporters he’d identified his top offseason priority — signing captain Steve Stamkos to an extension, which can be done by July 1 at the earliest.

The news doesn’t come as a huge surprise, given the Lightning don’t have many free agents to deal with. But it is the official start of what promises to be an intriguing negotiation.

Stamkos is heading into the last of a five-year, $37.5 million deal with a $7.5M average annual cap hit. Given he’s one of the NHL’s elite snipers and only turned 25 in February, it’s assumed he’s in line for a raise, with some suggesting he’ll be in conversation to become NHL’s next $10M cap hit, joining Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (their extensions kick in next season.)

But is Yzerman ready to commit that much money to one player?

If this postseason showed anything, it’s that Tampa has a slew of talented youngsters on the verge of becoming stars. Chief among them was Tyler Johnson, the leading playoff scorer — and while both he and Ondrej Palat are locked in through 2017 at $3.3M per, they’ll almost certainly be getting raises on their next deals.

And they’re not alone.

Nikita Kucherov, a bargain at $711,666 annually, is a RFA after next year. So too are Alex Killorn ($2,5M), Cedric Paquette ($633,333) and J.T. Brown ($950,000). Once Victor Hedman’s $4-million-per-season deal is up, he’ll almost certainly top Matthew Carle ($5.5M annually) as the team’s highest-paid defenseman.

Oh yeah, almost forgot — when Hedman’s deal is up in two year’s time, so too is Ben Bishop’s.

Any potential cap crunch could, of course, be mitigated by how badly Stamkos wants to stay in Tampa. It’s clear the team has the foundation to contend for years to come, meaning his decision could come down to the age-old question:

What’s more important, winning or money?

Do consider what Stamkos said today.

“This was one of, if not the best teams I’ve played on,” he said. “Not just skill wise, but how we got along.

“This was the most fun I’ve ever had playing the game.”

Have we seen the Blackhawks at their highest point?

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The Chicago Blackhawks have already been named as an early favorite to win the 2016 championship. That would be their fourth in seven years.

As good as the Blackhawks have been, with Patrick Kane just 26 years old and Jonathan Toews only two months removed from his 27th birthday, is it really a stretch to say that Chicago’s run has plenty of strong years left in it? Maybe not, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion.

The single biggest roadblock at this point is the Blackhawks’ cap situation. In the short-term, Chicago is likely going to have to make some sacrifices as it has about $64 million committed to 14 players, per General Fanager.

That’s not including 22-year-old Brandon Saad, who has now completed his entry-level contract and is in line for a considerable raise. Chicago also has to prepare for the fact that Brent Seabrook, who only has one year left on his contract, will likely demand more than his current $5.8 million annual cap hit.

Perhaps Patrick Sharp will be moved to give the Blackhawks the flexibility that they need. Maybe Chicago will find a way to keep him, although doing so would likely come at the expense of the Blackhawks’ depth.

Which brings us to the other part of their cap situation. While Kane and Toews just demonstrated once again — as if further proof was required — why Chicago had to re-sign them at any cost, in the salary cap era it’s the team that gets the best value that has the edge. Having Kane and Toews at $6.5 million cap hits each was a big part of the Blackhawks’ strength as it allowed them to support a rather large core, making the burden on the supporting cast somewhat less. The duo will continue to be enviable players, but their days of being under market value are over.

Now Chicago might find itself in a similar situation to Pittsburgh, which has struggled to build around Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby since they starting making what they’re worth (when the Penguins won the Cup, Malkin was still on his entry-level contract).

Then there’s the matter of Marian Hossa, who has had a tremendous career, but will be 37 in January. He nevertheless comes with a roughly $5.3 million annual cap hit through 2020-21. If Sharp gets traded away and Hossa declines, then suddenly Chicago starts to look a little thin offensively after Kane and Toews.

That’s not to suggest that Chicago’s decline is inevitable. Just because Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to make its cap situation work doesn’t mean that Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman can’t. After all, he’s been dealing with ceiling issues since he took over and they’ve stayed competitive. In part that’s because they’ve been able to draft and develop talent like Saad to help fill the gaps while keeping costs down. It’s also possible that Hossa has several good years left in him.

The salary cap by its nature pushes great teams down. Chicago has been remarkable in its ability to work around it. Time will tell if the Blackhawks will eventually succumb.

source: AP
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane

Sights and sounds from Chicago’s Cup celebrations

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The Chicago Blackhawks’ party began basically before the Stanley Cup even arrived last night, yet for some, it will probably feel like the question is if the fun will end (not when).

While some team members may still be celebrating for all we know – hey, these guys showed superhuman stamina at times in these playoffs – others may be nursing some serious hangovers and many icing a few wounds at this point (hopefully just from hockey).

Let’s take a mostly photographic tour through some of the reactions to last night’s big victory.

It only seems right to start with Kimmo Timonen finally raising the Cup:

Via Getty Images

Here’s video of his emotional interview with Pierre McGuire:

Of course, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the two faces of the franchise, even if Kane makes faces like these.

source: AP
Via AP

Duncan Keith won the Conn Smythe, and his kid may grab the playoff cuteness MVP.

source: Getty Images
Via Getty Images

Not to say there wasn’t competition, mind you …

Actually, maybe we should just call it a tie …

The Keeper of the Cup grabbed a candid shot or two:

Speaking of having a few sips, one “inside” account:

Let’s enjoy some random shots of large groups of (possibly inebriated) fans enjoying themselves.

source: AP
Via AP
source: AP
Via AP

There were plenty of kudos from big names ranging from U.S. President Barack Obama:

To memorable Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas:

And Lil Wayne …

Finally, here’s a snapshot of how all the Chicago newspapers handled the big win:

OK, one more bonus for Blackhawks fans who are really reveling:

Oddsmaker: ‘Hawks, Rangers very early 2016 Cup favorites

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The 2015 playoffs are officially in the books and it didn’t take long before the focus started to shift to the 2015-16 campaign. Online bookmaker Bovada released its odds and they’re putting the chances of the Blackhawks winning their fourth Stanley Cup in seven years at 7/1.

It goes without saying that it’s always hard to successfully defend a Stanley Cup championship, but Chicago’s task will be particularly daunting as it will have to navigate some rough waters this summer. With Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews matching eight-year, $84 million contracts set to kick in, the Blackhawks have about $64 million committed to 14 players for 2015-16, per General Fanager.

After reaching at least the Conference Final in three of the last four years, the New York Rangers ranked second with 8/1 odds. The Anaheim Ducks, which took Chicago to seven games in the Western Conference Final, are third at 10/1. The St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning rounded out the top five with matching 12/1 odds.

At the bottom of the pack are the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, and Arizona Coyotes at 100/1.

Here’s how all 30 teams stack up:
Chicago Blackhawks 7/1
New York Rangers 8/1
Anaheim Ducks 10/1
St. Louis Blues 12/1
Tampa Bay Lightning 12/1
Los Angeles Kings 14/1
Minnesota Wild 14/1
Montreal Canadiens 14/1
Pittsburgh Penguins 14/1
Boston Bruins 16/1
Nashville Predators 16/1
Washington Capitals 18/1
New York Islanders 22/1
Winnipeg Jets 25/1
Columbus Blue Jackets 33/1
Detroit Red Wings 33/1
Edmonton Oilers 33/1
Calgary Flames 40/1
San Jose Sharks 40/1
Vancouver Canucks 40/1
Ottawa Senators 50/1
Colorado Avalanche 66/1
Dallas Stars 66/1
New Jersey Devils 66/1
Philadelphia Flyers 66/1
Toronto Maple Leafs 66/1
Florida Panthers 75/1
Buffalo Sabres 100/1
Carolina Hurricanes 100/1
Arizona Coyotes 100/1

Ten interesting numbers from the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup run

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As Chicago wakes up from last night’s celebration and we enter a period of reflection following the Blackhawks’ third Stanley Cup championship in six years, let’s take a look at some of the interesting numbers associated with that feat:

2002: The last time a team won the Stanley Cup for the third time within the span of six years. The Detroit Red Wings won it all in 1997, 1998, and 2002.

45: The number of playoff games Corey Crawford has won. He’s tied for the Blackhawks’ franchise record with Tony Esposito.

114: How many points Patrick Kane has recorded in his 116 career playoff games. He’s just 26 years old, but is already tied for 64th place on the all-time leaderboard.

7: How many active Blackhawks’ players have been around for all three of Chicago’s recent Stanley Cup championships (Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews). Justin Williams is the only active non-Blackhawks player with three Stanley Cup championships.

11: The size of the club Joel Quenneville joined by winning his third Stanley Cup as a head coach.

3: The number of Conn Smythe Trophy winners that got a point on Chicago’s Stanley Cup-winning goal (Duncan Keith, 2015; Patrick Kane, 2013; Brad Richards, 2004).

33-0-0: Chicago’s record (regular season and playoffs) when entering the third period with the lead. The Blackhawks were also 33-3-0 when leading after 20 minutes.

4: Where Duncan Keith’s 2015 playoff run ranked when it came to total ice time recorded during a single postseason since 1998. Keith logged 715:37 minutes, which put him behind just Nicklas Lidstrom (2002, 717:01), Chris Pronger (2006, 742:55), and Drew Doughty (2014, 747:33).

1,213: The number of games (regular season and playoffs) Kimmo Timonen participated in during his NHL career. Last night he lifted the Stanley Cup for the first time.

14: The number of Stanley Cup championships Scotty Bowman has won.