Less than a year ago, the Washington Capitals had no idea who would be their second-line center.
They know now.
It’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, the talented 23-year-old Russian who just signed a two-year extension with the club.
“I played good hockey but I have to play better,” Kuznetsov said, per CSN Washington. “I’ll try to focus on my game and what the coach tells me. If everybody does the right job probably something good will happen.”
Next season, the Caps could have a first line comprised of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, and a second line featuring Kuznetsov between Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams.
“[Kuznetsov] filled a hole at second-line center that we’ve been trying to fill for a number of years,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said in May.
With a defense headlined by John Carlson and Matt Niskanen, and with Braden Holtby in goal, you’ll excuse Caps fans for finding it difficult to contain their excitement.
Related: Caps landing ‘affordable’ Williams a sign of the new free agency
Vladimir Tarasenko had a conference call with reporters this morning, the day after his eight-year, $60 million extension with the Blues was announced.
Can you sense a theme?
The Blues, despite icing a number of strong teams since joining the NHL in 1967, have never won the Stanley Cup. The last three seasons they’ve had good teams during the regular season, only to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. They haven’t been past the second round since 2001.
In Tarasenko, the Blues boast an elite goal-scoring winger who’s only 23 years old.
“We saw, I think just the tip of the iceberg of what Vladi can do in this league last year,” GM Doug Armstrong said yesterday, per NHL.com.
“Vladimir signed for eight years, Alex Pietrangelo signed for (seven), I think the nucleus of our defense and our forwards are here for the foreseeable future and we can build around that group.”
Safe to say, if St. Louis doesn’t win a championship over the next five or six years — a period when Tarasenko and Pietrangelo will be right smack in their primes — it’ll be even more heartache for the Blues and their fans.
Related: Blues appear set in the short-term, but difficult decisions loom
The Philadelphia Flyers need to agree to terms with restricted free agent Michael Del Zotto, but they’re otherwise pretty much set for training camp. That doesn’t mean the rest of the summer will be uneventful though.
Jakub Voracek is going into the final season of his four-year, $17 million contract and the Flyers might avoid the uncertainty that comes with that by re-signing him this summer. His agent Petr Svoboda has begun talks with the team, per CSN Philly.
The 25-year-old forward scored 22 goals and 81 points in 82 contests last season, so he’s in line for a big raise. He’s not much older than Vladimir Tarasenko, who signed a eight-year, $60 million deal on Tuesday. It’s not a perfect comparable because Tarasenko is more of a goal scorer while Voracek has more NHL experience. Voracek also has a better track record over the last three seasons with 189 points in 212 games compared to Tarasenko’s 135 points in 179 contests.
In fact, over the last three campaigns, Voracek ranks eighth in total points among players that are 28 years old or younger. Of those in the top-10, the only ones to re-sign within the last year were Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (ninth and 10th respectively), who inked matching eight-year, $84 million contracts. But of course, Kane and Toews are being paid for more than just their point production.
CSN Philly speculated that Voracek is probably looking at a five-year deal that comes with at least a $7 million annual cap hit and in this market, that would probably be seen as good value.
Vladimir Tarasenko’s performance last season combined with his solid showing in 2013-14 gave the St. Louis Blues the confidence to sign him to a eight-year, $60 million contract.
With that the Blues are just about set for the 2015-16 campaign. They still need to re-sign restricted free agent Magnus Paajarvi, but that might be the only remaining action we see from them between now and the start of training camp.
That leaves St. Louis near the salary cap, but with a little bit of wiggle room, per General Fanager. The challenge will come next summer when David Backes and Troy Brouwer are set to become unrestricted free agents while Jaden Schwartz will test the restricted free agent market. Schwartz in particular will likely be expecting a big raise from his current $2.35 million cap hit, assuming he has another strong season after his 63-point 2014-15 campaign.
If the Blues intend to keep defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk then they’ll also need to account for the likelihood that he’ll ask for a big raise too once his current four-year, $17 million deal expires in the summer of 2017.
It sets up a scenario where St. Louis might be compelled over the next year or two to trade players they otherwise wouldn’t have to remain cap compliant.
The big X-Factor in this will be how much the ceiling rises, but as we’ve seen this year with the decline of the Canadian dollar compared to its American counterpart, big increases in the cap aren’t a given.
Related: Shattenkirk’s agent downplays trade rumors
The St. Louis Blues have signed forward Vladimir Tarasenko to an eight-year, $60 million contract.
With a cap hit of $7.5 million, the deal makes Tarasenko the highest-paid player on the Blues.
One of the league’s top young stars, the 23-year-old had 37 goals in 2014-15, fewer than only four others in the NHL. He added six more goals in six playoff games.
The Blues drafted Tarasenko 16th overall in 2010.
As far as recent comparables go, it’s not easy to come up with many, given Tarasenko was a restricted free agent coming off his entry-level deal. Brandon Saad just signed a six-year, $36 million deal with Columbus, but his production pales next to Tarasenko’s.
Elite scoring wingers-wise, Phil Kessel is on an eight-year deal with an $8 million cap hit (shared now by both the Leafs and Penguins), while Corey Perry is also on an eight-year deal, with an $8.625 million cap hit.
Kessel, 27, and Perry, 30, each have a longer track record, but Tarasenko is considerably younger. And, of course, Kessel and Perry signed those deals as pending unrestricted free agents, which gave them more leverage in negotiations.