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Gorton deserves kudos for Rangers’ rebuild on the fly

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

It’s easy for fans to demand a full-on rebuild when times get tough for their team.

It’s another matter for a general manager to actually commit to years of losing, with no guarantee of brighter days ahead.

For Jeff Gorton, a tear-it-down rebuild was never really an option in New York anyway, even when the Rangers were looking particularly old and worn down. That’s largely because Henrik Lundqvist was signed through 2020-21, and it’s tough to tell your Hall-of-Fame goalie that it’s time to tank.

So the Rangers chose instead to rebuild on the fly.

Two years after replacing Glen Sather, one would have to conclude that Gorton has done a pretty good job in that regard. The Rangers may not be the strongest Stanley Cup contenders next season, but consider:

— Last summer, Gorton was able to use a team with pressure to win now (the Ottawa Senators) to trade Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad, the latter of whom is five years younger.

— A year later, Gorton found another team with pressure to get some immediate results (the Arizona Coyotes) and traded Derek Stepan and backup goalie Antti Raanta for the seventh overall draft pick (Lias Andersson) and Anthony DeAngelo, giving the Rangers two more talented youngsters to add to the stable.

— Gorton, whose team’s future had essentially been mortgaged by his predecessor, has been forced to do a lot of his work outside the draft, and the results have been impressive. His most celebrated move was getting Jimmy Vesey to sign, but he’s also added college free agents like John Gilmour and Neal Pionk, and he got Russian defenseman Alexei Bereglazov out of the KHL.

Throw in the fact the Rangers actually kept their first-round pick this year, selecting Czech center Filip Chytil 21st overall, and the future is looking a lot brighter today than, say, in April of 2016.

Oh, and Gorton was also able to sign Kevin Shattenkirk, the most coveted unrestricted free agent of the summer, to a below-market contract with a term of just four years. So that was pretty good, too.

Admittedly, this path may still lead to ruin — or, if not quite ruin, maddening mediocrity. The Rangers still don’t have a future Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, i.e. the kind of player that typically goes to teams that have bottomed out.

But on the path the Rangers have chosen to take, Gorton has done an admirable job, and for that he deserves credit.

Bovada gives McDavid higher odds than Crosby to win Hart in 2017-18

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In handing Connor McDavid an eight-year, $100 million extension, the Edmonton Oilers essentially are paying the 20-year-old star based on the assumption that he’ll provide MVP-quality play.

At least one Vegas oddsmaker agrees, as Bovada tabbed McDavid as the favorite to win the Hart Trophy, edging Sidney Crosby.

That’s interesting, yet it might be even more interesting to note where other players fall in the rankings. Auston Matthews coming in third is particularly intriguing.

Who are some of the more interesting choices? The 20/1 range seems appealing, as Carey Price is one of the few goalies with the notoriety to push for such honors while John Tavares has the skill and financial motivation to produce the best work of his career next season.

Anyway, entertain yourself with those odds, via Bovada: (Quick note: Bovada originally had Artemi Panarin listed as still playing with Chicago. PHT went ahead and fixed that in the bit below.)

2017 – 2018 – Who will win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player?
Connor McDavid (EDM)                         3/2
Sidney Crosby (PIT)                              5/2
Auston Matthews (TOR)                         17/2
Alex Ovechkin (WAS)                            9/1
Patrick Kane (CHI)                                 14/1
Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)                       15/1
Evgeni Malkin (PIT)                                16/1
Carey Price (MON)                                 20/1
John Tavares (NYI)                                20/1
Jamie Benn (DAL)                                 25/1
Steven Stamkos (TB)                             25/1
Erik Karlsson (OTT)                               33/1
Nikita Kucherov (TB)                              33/1
Jack Eichel (BUF)                                  50/1
Ryan Getzlaf (ANA)                               50/1
Patrik Laine (WPG)                                50/1
Brad Marchand (BOS)                            50/1
Tyler Seguin (DAL)                                50/1
Nicklas Backstrom (WAS)                      60/1
Brent Burns (SJ)                                    60/1
Braden Holtby (WAS)                            60/1
Phil Kessel (PIT)                                    60/1
Artemi Panarin (CBJ)                              60/1
Joe Pavelski (SJ)                                  60/1

Jacob Trouba could really make Jets pay with next contract

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This post is part of Jets Day on PHT…

Here’s something you come to realize if you nerd out about the league’s salary cap for long enough: not all bargain contracts are created equal.

Now, look, any GM worth his salt should be able to take advantage of those precious windows where players are exceeding the value of their deals. The 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks are the gold standard in that regard: they won that first contemporary Stanley Cup thanks in part to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being on the last year of their rookie deals, allowing them that extra Dustin Byfuglien here and Brian Campbell there.

If a player is talented and healthy enough, you’ll eventually need to pay up. That’s why there’s some serious wisdom to locking down talented guys to longer deals when they’re especially young. (Just look at how ridiculous the deals look for, say, John Tavares and Duncan Keith.)

The Winnipeg Jets faced some serious contract impasses with Jacob Trouba and his agent Kurt Overhardt, yet eventually they enjoyed an eye-popping bargain. With the risk of sitting out a season hanging over his head, the RFA leverage was too much for Trouba, who signed for two years and $5 million.

Even with things oddly prorated, that’s a ludicrous steal for Trouba. And, of course, everyone said all the right things when a deal was reached, even as trade rumors festered into November 2016.

“I’ve committed to sign here,” Trouba said while confirming he’s rescinded his trade request, per the Winnipeg Sun. “When I signed that piece of paper, everything changed in my mind.”

A pessimist – and, possibly, a realist – might amend that last bit to “everything changed in my mind … for now.” (Possibly adding in some ominous music.)

When it comes to tough negotiations, we’ve seen some examples of short “bridge” deals that end up costly, and sometimes those same players end up traded somewhere else.

If you’re an emotionally vulnerable Jets fan, maybe just console yourself with Trouba remaining an RFA and scroll to a different post, because these examples might be less than ideal:

P.K. Subban: misses some of 2012-13, signs two-year, $5.75M deal with Montreal. Then he gets $9M per season for eight years, and traded to Nashville before 2016-17.

Ryan O'Reilly: strenuous negotiations lead to $6M at two years, making things awkward with the likes of Matt Duchene. Now makes $7.5M per year with Buffalo after being traded.

Ryan Johansen: Another Overhardt client whose relationship soured with his team. He was ultimately traded to Nashville, where he makes $8M per year thanks to that new deal.

(Note: Overhardt also represented Kyle Turris, who eventually left the Arizona Coyotes, who must wince every time he scores a big goal for the Ottawa Senators. As evidence that there’s another way, Overhardt appears to be Viktor Arvidsson‘s agent, so it’s not like he’ll outright refuse to sign longer deals that might ultimately benefit the teams involved. Of course, Arvidsson never had that contract-dispute-baggage with Nashville so …)

Now, before you claim that Trouba is far below those players, note that he has a season to compile more impressive counting stats with superior defensive partner(s) …. and he already shows potential from a “fancy stats” perspective. He seems to settle nicely into the top defenseman prototype, by HERO chart measures, as just one example:

With the right opportunities, Trouba could really drive up his value. Such motivation could be very beneficial for Winnipeg in 2017-18, but at what cost in the future?

In a recent edition of “The Hockey PDOcast,” Garret Hohl hypothesized that, while Trouba may compare to the likes of Seth Jones, he might end up costing the Jets more than the $5.4M per year that Jones receives with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Beyond sheer inflation, one might ascribe some of that to something of a bitterness tax. The Jets got their bargain and won that battle, but much like with Subban and others, a talented player might just win the war.

Bettman, Ducks, others share Bryan Murray memories

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The hockey world continues to mourn the passing of Bryan Murray at age 74, with condolences coming from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, legendary figure Scotty Bowman, the Anaheim Ducks, and many others.

For one thing, it’s heartwarming – though still very sad – to see the sheer volume of heartfelt messages following the news of Murray’s passing.

The personal touches really stand out, including Bettman noting Murray’s “dry sense of humor” in the league’s statement:

“Bryan Murray’s strength and character were reflected in the teams he coached and the teams he built over decades of front office excellence,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “While his warmth and dry sense of humor were always evident, they were accompanied by the fiery competitiveness and determination that were his trademarks. As we mourn Bryan’s passing, we celebrate his many contributions to the game — as well as his courage. The National Hockey League family sends our deepest condolences, comfort and support to Bryan’s family, his many friends and all whose lives he influenced.”

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk spoke for many when he described himself as “heartbroken” by news of Murray’s death.

Murray made quite an impact on the Anaheim Ducks, something they noted in their own release.

The Anaheim Ducks family mourns the loss of Bryan Murray, who passed away this morning. As both head coach and general manager of the team (2001-2004), Bryan led our organization with class, dignity and charisma.

Scotty Bowman also praised someone who’s been involved with the NHL for a resounding 35 years.

Plenty of NHL teams weighed in, even those he wasn’t quite as directly involved with. Players who once suited up for his teams shared their thoughts, too, including Chris Wideman and Mike Hoffman. Plenty of journalists provided genuine accounts of his kindness and sense of humor.

It says a lot when such a wide variety of people share their thoughts on a person’s life, and it’s apparent that Murray made many great impressions during his decades of work in the sport.

The Senators’ video shows that he still had time for his family, too.

The Senators are going to need another big season from Craig Anderson

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This post is a part of Senators day at PHT…

During the Ottawa Senators’ stunning run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals much of the attention was focussed on their “boring” style of play under coach Guy Boucher, and how they were able to play a tight defensive game to scratch and claw their way to victories.

And all of that was a big factor.

Boucher put in place a system that worked for the talent he had, and the results were there.

But it’s not like this was a particularly great defensive team that shut teams down. They ended up getting outscored (by only two goals, but still) during the regular season, and when you look at the number of shots and total shot attempts they allowed, or the fact they were near the bottom of the league on the penalty kill they were pretty much a middle of the pack team.

Having a top-five player in the world in Erik Karlsson certainly helped, but so did the performance of starting goaltender Craig Anderson.

Anderson’s season was a difficult one off the ice as he left the team on more than one occasion to be with his wife, Nichole, as she went through her battle with cancer.

On the ice when he was in the lineup he was perhaps the Senators’ most important player (not best … but most important) because there was a noticeable difference in the team’s ability to win with him in net versus when there was any other goalie. A lot of that is due to the way the Senators played and the number of shots — and shot attempts — they surrendered.

Anderson has been an underrated starter for quite some time and since arriving in Ottawa has been one of the more productive starters in the league. His .920 save percentage since joining the Senators is among the 10 best in the league during that time (active goalies with at least 100 games played) and he always performed well in the playoffs (.929 career save percentage).

When he was in the lineup during the 2016-17 season the Senators, including playoffs, were 36-19-4, which would have been a 104-point pace over 82 games.

With the trio of Mike Condon, Chris Dreidger and Andrew Hammond they managed only a 19-17-6 record … an 85-point pace over 82 games.

That change is not a coincidence when you look at Anderson’s performance with a .926 regular season save percentage that was third best in the league, as well a .922 mark in the playoffs.

Without that level of play from Anderson — especially in the postseason — there was no system in the world that was going to lift Ottawa to the level it ended up reaching. They were only 15th in the league in terms of shots on goal against, and when it came to 5-on-5 play they were one of the worst teams in terms of giving up total shot attempts.

Combine that with an offense that wasn’t particularly explosive and it was always going to be a team that needed to rely on strong goaltending. And Anderson gave them that.

Given that the Senators are bringing back almost the exact same roster this season with the same coach using the same system there is little reason to believe much is going to change with the Senators’ style of play. That means there is going to be a lot of pressure on Anderson to put together another strong performance like the one we saw this past year. Even if a league-average effort from Anderson on the same number of shots would have added another 14-18 goals against to the Senators’ total for the season, a number that would have pushed them from 10th in the league in goals against all the way down to 18th, and significantly worsened an already bad goal differential. With only four points between them and the Tampa Bay Lightning (a team that should be better this season due to better health) there is not much margin for error there.