Shea Weber

Preds, Ellis ‘don’t agree exactly on what the dollars should be’ for new deal

Sounds as though contract negotiations between Nashville and RFA defenseman Ryan Ellis have hit a standstill. From The Tennessean:

The 23-year-old defenseman is the lone remaining restricted free agent from last year’s roster who has not come to contract terms. He is coming off a three-year, $4.5 million entry-level deal.

General manager David Poile sounded hopeful a resolution could be reached soon. Veterans are scheduled to report for training camp on Sept. 17.

“Like 99 percent of negotiations that aren’t done at this time we just don’t agree exactly on what the dollars should be,” Poile said. “Hopefully it will be done by training camp. That’s what our target is.”

Ellis is in an interesting situation. The 11th overall pick and fourth defenseman off the board in 2009 — taken ahead of Calvin de Haan and Nick Leddy — he struggled to find his niche in his first two professional seasons but broke out in ’13-14, posting career highs in games played (80), goals (six), assists (21) and points (27).

Yet in Nashville, he’s stuck amongst a glut of blueliners.

Shea Weber and Roman Josi are the top two guys, and Seth Jones arrived on the scene last year and became the No. 3 (with the understanding he’s talented enough to eventually push for one of the top two spots). As a result, Ellis only averaged 16:04 TOI per game last year, though that number is expected to increase under Peter Laviolette’s new uptempo system, which should fit Ellis’ offensive skillset and puck-moving ability.

Poile ‘expecting real good things’ from Jones in 14-15

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Nashville’s defense already looks pretty good going into 2014-15, but Seth Jones is something of a question mark.

The 19-year-old blueliner (he’ll turn 20 on Oct. 3) has a lot of upside, but his rookie campaign was far from perfect and while that’s not surprising or worthy of condemnation, it still remains to be seen how long it will take him to break out.

Predators GM David Poile seemed hesitant to set the bar too high for Jones, but he is clearly upbeat about the defenseman’s development.

“For 19 years old I’m not sure what you’re supposed to expect, but he did a lot of really good things,” Poile told NHL.com. “I know he had some bumps in the road. I think his plus/minus (minus-23), you’d like to be better, but he went over to the [2014 IIHF] World Championship and played really well; best defenseman in the tournament. He’s been working out all summer. I’m expecting real good things. Just a little bit better in every area.”

Sophomore campaigns obviously aren’t always kind, but the Predators can afford to take some of the pressure off of Jones. Shea Weber and Roman Josi each averaged over 26 minutes per game last season and will likely shoulder the bulk of the burden again in 2014-15.

No longer underrated, Ekman-Larsson looks to lead in Arizona

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By now you should all know about Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

When the Coyotes reached the Western Conference Final in 2012, Ekman-Larsson wowed fans who hadn’t had much of a chance to see him play with his ability to carry the puck and generate offense from the blue line. His ability to play strong in all three zones had many believing they were watching a future Norris Trophy winner.

Two years since then, the Coyotes have fallen out of the playoff picture but Ekman-Larsson’s play hasn’t fallen off. If anything, the 23-year-old is leading by example.

Over the past two seasons, Ekman-Larsson has averaged over 25 minutes of ice time per game. Last season he played nearly 26 minutes per game and the ice time paid off as he had career-highs in goals (15) and points (44). His point total was second to Keith Yandle on the team defense and 14th best amongst defensemen in the NHL. Of the players ahead of him on the NHL list, only Erik Karlsson and Shea Weber saw more ice time.

While Yandle carried a bit more of the offensive load, Ekman-Larsson is taking care of business strongly at both ends of the ice. He’s also a major threat on the power play as 22 of his 44 points last season came with the man-advantage including eight goals.

When you check out Ekman-Larsson’s possession stats (courtesy Extra Skater), his game is strong.

In his first three seasons he had positive numbers that ranked him out amongst the best on the team. While his possession numbers fell off last season, the punch he and Keith Yandle provided offensively helped keep the Coyotes in the hunt for the playoffs all year.

As he enters his fifth season, Ekman-Larsson has all the hype and the skills to back it up. Now it’s his time to break through and enter the pantheon of other elite, young defensemen.

Crosby, Stamkos lead pack in NHL 15 player rankings

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EA Sports has unveiled its top 50 player rankings for NHL 15 and this time it wasn’t even close: Sidney Crosby had a 96 rating, which was three points higher than his closest competition.

That’s a stark change from NHL 14 when Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk were tied at 95. Datsyuk, who was limited to 45 games in 2013-14, dropped to sixth on the list and now has a 93 rating.

After Crosby, the top five are Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Alex Ovechkin, and Shea Weber.

Zdeno Chara was rated as the top defenseman a year ago, but the 37-year-old has slipped from a 94 rating to 91 and now ranks 20th overall. Weber also pulled away from his former teammate Ryan Suter. The Minnesota Wild defenseman retained his 92 rating, but dropped from ninth on the list in 2013-14 (just one rank below Weber’s position last season) to 15th this time around.

At seventh overall, the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist is the top goaltender on the list, although the Kings’ Jonathan Quick was slotted just below him.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the only team with two players on the top-10 list was Anaheim as Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry took the ninth and 10th spots respectively.

You can view the full list here. NHL 15 is scheduled to come out on Sept. 9.

Would it make sense for Nashville to trade Weber?

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Shea Weber is the face of the Predators’ franchise, the team captain, and one of the best defensemen in the league. So why would they trade him?

If you asked Predators GM David Poile, his response would be rather simple: We wouldn’t.

“We’re keeping him, we’re building our franchise around him,” Poile said in June. He added, “Why wouldn’t we build our team around him?”

Poile’s denials haven’t been enough to kill the speculation surrounding Weber’s future though and part of the problem is that there are legitimate answers to his question. For starters, the Predators are a small market team and the 14-year, $110 million offer sheet that Weber signed with Philadelphia — which Nashville matched to retain his rights — wasn’t built for Nashville. If anything, it was structured to make it as hard as possible for the Predators to keep him.

Weber’s contract is a relic of the old CBA in the sense that it’s severely front-loaded. He will earn $14 million annually for two more seasons and then $12 million annually for another two campaigns after that. However, his cap hit is roughly $7.9 million, which is very reasonable in this market. The wealthier teams in the league would gladly stomach his actual salary to get Weber at that cap hit and if Nashville ever decided to trade him, they would likely get a great return.

Which might make sense given that they have a promising young defensive core beyond Weber, with blueliners Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Seth Jones potentially leading the charge. A Weber trade would still make the Predators worse in the short-term, but if they’re not a great bet to make the playoffs in the near future anyways, is that really much of a sacrifice?

Which brings us to the main reason the Weber rumors aren’t dead: Nashville hasn’t been competitive lately. When a team struggles, their high-profile veteran players are exposed to the rumor mill. In Weber’s case, that has been amplified because it was initially suggested that part of the reason Weber signed with Philadelphia in the first place was that he didn’t want to be part of a rebuilding effort.

Since then Weber has been upbeat about spending his career in Nashville and optimistic about the team’s future, but you have to wonder if his tone will change if the Predators’ moves this summer fail to produce results.

With that in mind, the next season or two could be of particular importance in defining Nashville’s future. Despite the financial burden and the possible return, Poile has indeed been building the Predators around Weber. Rumors aside, it would be surprising if Poile traded Weber unless the situation in Nashville got worse or Weber got tired of waiting for the Predators to get better.