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Predators are one Johansen deal away from a salary cap work of art

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If you need to kill some time, play this game: which Nashville Predators contract is the biggest steal?

If Viktor Arvidsson is as much of a difference-maker as his limited NHL reps indicate, his $4.25 million cap hit over seven years is certainly in the running. Still, there are plenty of choices.

  • The defense alone is bargain-filled, making P.K. Subban‘s $9 million cap hit easy to stomach.

Ryan Ellis‘ $2.5 million cap hit doesn’t run out until after 2018-19. Mattias Ekholm‘s less of a “well-kept secret” following Nashville’s run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, yet his $3.75M steal runs through 2021-22. Roman Josi can be a bit polarizing but at $4M for three more seasons, it’s not controversial to say that he’s probably at least worth the money.

  • The offensive bargains begin with the top line.

Arvidsson has the makings of a legit first-line winger, and that deal is highly likely to be regrettable … for his agent and accountant.

Filip Forsberg‘s $6M isn’t as audacious as some of those defensive steals, but it’s still pretty nice. That total also makes it easier for the Predators to try to control costs for their one remaining big consideration: Ryan Johansen, who still needs a deal as an RFA.

  • Calle Jarnkrok is a pretty nifty get at $2M per season, especially if he grows with a contract that runs through 2021-22.
  • Scott Hartnell took quite the homecoming discount at $1M for 2017-18.
  • As you go deeper, the Predators enjoy some nice deals on players who are under ELC’s or second contracts: Kevin Fiala ($863K), Frederick Gaudreau ($667K), Pontus Aberg ($650K) and Colton Sissons ($625K) could all be helpful contributors at low costs.

This tweet really sells the point, in case this post hasn’t: GM David Poile hasn’t been slowing down much since being named GM of the Year. And he might just be the best executive in the NHL right now.

  • It’s all pretty immaculate; even if you’re not a fan of Pekka Rinne, his $7 million cap hit expires in two seasons. By then, the Predators could very well transition to Juuse Saros, possibly echoing the Penguins with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray along the way.

Overall, it’s an enviable situation, as Nashville’s clean cap ranks with Pittsburgh and few others as the best-looking in the NHL. That’s especially true when you consider the fact that the Lightning are allocating $8.8 million to the shaky duo of former Rangers in Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.

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Still, the Predators aren’t done for the summer, as Johansen stands as a tricky situation. They don’t have the helpful deadline of arbitration looming, so the two sides are just going to have to figure something out … eventually.

Even so, Cap Friendly pegs them at $13.43 million in cap space, so they have room to work with their first-line center.

While teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks stocked up on high draft picks, the Predators’ greatest moves have largely come through shrewd drafting, savvy trades, and forward-thinking contract extensions. One can debate which setup is the best, but Poile’s work places Nashville in the upper crust, and their built to stay there for years to come.

Related: Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel could help Penguins compete for years.

Zibanejad looking for $5.35 million from Rangers in arbitration

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The New York Rangers and restricted free agent forward Mika Zibanejad are scheduled for an arbitration hearing on Tuesday if they can not come to an agreement on a new contract before them.

On Sunday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the numbers both sides are looking at heading into that hearing and they don’t seem to be too far apart. According to Friedman, Zibanejad is seeking a $5.35 million salary while the Rangers have countered with an offer of $4.1 million. If the two sides were able to meet in the middle that would be in the neighborhood of around $4.7 million per season, which probably seems about right given Zibanejad’s performance and some of the contracts that have recently been signed by the likes of Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat (both will make a little more than $5 million per season, while both have been more productive).

Zibanejad, 24, is coming off of his first season with the Rangers after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators in the Derrick Brassard trade.

He was limited to just 56 games due to injury, scoring 14 goals to go with 23 assists. He scored at least 20 goals in each of the previous two seasons.

With Derek Stepan gone to Arizona Zibanejad figures to take on a bigger role this season for the Rangers.

The Rangers still have $8.4 million in salary cap space to work with, via CapFriendly.

Palat feels ‘pretty good’ about Lightning bouncing back next season

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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman accomplished quite a bit this offseason.

Not only did he acquire Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, but he also managed to lose Jason Garrison‘s contract before re-signing Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. They also signed Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi in free agency.

Even though fitting everyone under the cap couldn’t have been easy, Yzerman managed to get it done, and it has at least some of his players excited about the prospect of next season.

“I feel pretty good about the team,” Palat, who signed a five-year, $26.5 million contract extension last week, told the Tampa Bay Times. “I like all the new guys. They’re in the league for a while. Great veteran guys, experienced guys. That’s what you need to have on your team if you want to win a Cup.”

Going into last season, many people pegged Tampa Bay as one of the teams that would compete for the East Division crown. Not only did they not win the East, they didn’t even qualify for the playoffs. A lot of that had to do with injuries, but there’s no denying that the 2016-17 season was disappointing for the Bolts.

Despite not playing hockey in the spring last season, there seems to be a good amount of optimism surrounding the team’s chances of making a run this year (a healthy Steven Stamkos would help in a big way).

Sure, keeping guys on the ice and off medical tables would increase the odds of the team having a bounce back season, but there’s more to it than that. Outside of a handful of players (mainly Nikita Kucherov), the Lightning didn’t get consistent efforts from a lot of their key players that were healthy.

“It was an experience for us last year because we came from two good (playoff) runs and we thought we were going to make the playoffs just like that, and it didn’t happen,” added Palat. “In the NHL we have to play good from the beginning of the season, and we have to be good all season long.”

Jonathan Drouin goes undercover — which he won’t be able to do much longer in Montreal

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There is a video making the rounds online right now of Jonathan Drouin interviewing Montreal Canadiens fans about Jonathan Drouin.

His disguise of choice? A black T-shirt. Equipped with a Habs microphone, Drouin goes around asking folks in both English and French what they think of the team’s new additions this offseason and about how many points their recently acquired and signed 22-year-old skilled forward may get — among other hard-hitting inquiries.

Based on the video evidence, some fans seem to recognize him after a short conversation. Others don’t before the big reveal is made.

One fan’s advice: “Don’t take Montreal too seriously.”

While the premise of the video is for Drouin to be right out in the open acting as a team reporter yet incognito at the same time, it would be foolish to think the pressure on him next season won’t be anything short of immense. He was born in Ste-Agathe, Quebec, which is just a short drive northwest from Montreal. Per the Montreal Gazette, he grew up spending summers on the West Island of Montreal. He’s a hometown player for the Habs.

As to be expected in a trade of this magnitude, the Canadians paid a price to land Drouin from the Lightning, parting ways with prospect defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, selected ninth overall last year. The Habs then signed their new acquisition to a six-year, $33 million contract following his breakout 21-goal, 53-point season in Tampa Bay.

The Habs have bulked up on defense over the last few years, acquiring Shea Weber and then signing Karl Alzner this summer. Their success has hinged mostly on the play — and health — of their goalie Carey Price, who was in turn paid a historic amount in his latest contract extension.

For all their efforts to bolster that element of their game, the Habs need dynamic offensive players. They sent that type of player in P.K. Subban to Nashville last year to get Weber. Montreal’s offensive attack during the regular season was middle of the pack for the NHL, 15th in goals-for per game at 2.72. In the playoffs? In six games, they averaged just 1.83 goals-for per game against the Rangers and were eliminated.

Keep in mind, as well, that they lost Alex Radulov during free agency. Back in the NHL after a four-year stint in the KHL, Radulov was responsible for 18 goals and 54 points, before he cashed in with the Dallas Stars.

There are others that can help carry the burden of offensive production. If Paul Byron could duplicate — or come close to duplicating — what he did a year ago, that would be a huge boost. Alex Galchenyuk is only 23 years old but has a 30-goal season under his belt already. Max Pacioretty has five 30-goal seasons, including four in a row.

But the Habs were in need of another highly skilled and speedy forward and that’s what they have in Drouin. He’s young, which is also a plus. He’s coming off a solid year with the Bolts, with the promise for greater things in the future. He has already discussed the pressure he’ll face playing in Montreal. He believes he will “thrive” in this situation.

Playing for the Habs, it will be impossible for Drouin to remain anonymous.

Yzerman kept the gang together; Now Lightning must deliver

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Over and over again, it seemed like there would be a salary-cap challenge that would derail the Tampa Bay Lightning. Each time, GM Steve Yzerman seemed to pull a rabbit out of his hat.

Splendid summer of 2016

Instead of heading to, say, Toronto, Steven Stamkos signed with the Lightning. Not long after, Victor Hedman stayed around for about a half million less than Stamkos.

Nikita Kucherov seemed like he’d present a hurdle the Lightning couldn’t clear during that same, complicated summer of 2016. Instead, Yzerman pulled wizardry in signing him for a little less than $4.8 million. Not bad for a forward who only added volume to the murmurs that he might actually be the best Lightning forward on that roster.

Keeping the gang together

After a brutal season, one wondered if the Lightning would finally feel the same sting as other salary-cap-challenged-contenders (or hopeful contenders).

Now, sure, management might not have parted ways with Ben Bishop if there was no cap ceiling. And while Jonathan Drouin never felt like a part of the core, money likely inspired his trade as much as anything else.

MORE: Drouin traded to Montreal for package including Mikhail Sergachev

Still … it’s resounding how often Yzerman’s come out on top in these discussions. This summer’s been another example of that, as he managed to sign Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat to similar, possibly team-friendly deals. Many teams would envy “The Triplets” of Johnson, Palat, and Kucherov coming in at less than $15M combined.

After years of looking at the Lightning’s place in the standings with one eye and their looming cap worries with the other, now everything’s just about locked up.

So, the question is – especially after last season’s nightmare – can this hyped group regain its place among the contenders? Can they back up that promise by actually winning a Stanley Cup?

Pivotal players

Palat seems to be a pretty steady guy, one who might have a “high floor but low ceiling.”

There are more interesting fork-in-the-road moments for the Lightning, instead.

1. What to expect from Stamkos?

Injuries keep wrecking Stamkos’ seasons, almost to an absurd degree. He was limited to 17 games in 2016-17 and 37 in 2013-14.

Stamkos gets lost in the shuffle of elite discussions in large part because of injuries. At first, $8.5 million seemed like a steal for the Lightning, and he’s still slated for great things at 27. Still, the situation is cloudier than it was when he signed that mega-deal.

2. Is Andrei Vasilevskiy the real deal?

The Lightning went with the younger – and cheaper – goalie in essentially choosing Vasilevskiy over Ben Bishop. His contract mimics Matt Murray‘s in price, and if he’s legitimately a difference maker, could be a similar steal. Even so, Vasilevskiy matches this Lightning team in actually needing to deliver on such promise.

3. How good is Tyler Johnson, really?

Take a look at Tyler Johnson’s past four seasons:

2013-14 – 24 goals, 50 points
2014-15 – 29 goals, 72 points
2015-16 – 14 goals, 38 points
2016-17 – 19 goals, 45 points

Now, Johnson has also shown promise in the postseason including in 2015-16. So there are multiple flashes of a true “game-breaker” type, which could be especially noteworthy with the loss of Drouin.

Johnson stands as a mystery, especially if you’re the type who attributes much of Johnson’s and Palat’s best moments to being on a line with Kucherov.

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Overall, the Lightning are in a great spot, and Yzerman’s hard work explains why. Maybe we can quibble with Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi signings, and some might argue that the wrong calls were made with Ben Bishop and/or Jonathan Drouin.

Still, with heaps of tough contract challenges in front of him, Stevie Y mostly hit homers rather than striking out.

At least, he did so on paper. The Lightning need to make it happen on the ice, or his brilliance will mainly seem theoretical.