Buffalo's 'source of frustration'

1 Comment

vanek.jpgEvery now and then, Pro Hockey Talk will ask for insight from some of the best team bloggers out there. For this feature, we asked a simple question: “Who is your team’s most frustrating player?” Just for fun, Brandon and I also provided our “guesses” as to who that player might be.

First, here are our guesses for Buffalo.

Brandon: Raffi Torres

He was acquired to add scoring depth to Stanley Cup caliber team. Two points, no goals in seven games won’t cut it.

James: Thomas Vanek

Is might seem a little unfair to judge a player for signing a stupidly huge contract, but a player must know that with bigger checks come heightened scrutiny. Sadly, you just never know what you’ll get from Vanek.

For the Buffalo perspective, we tabbed Marty Vance from Double-Edged Sabres and the NHL satire blog Bangin’ Panger. Definitely give his work an extra look if you haven’t already.

Marty: Thomas Vanek

It’s funny; you ask someone who the Sabres best player is; they’ll say Ryan Miller. Ask them who they’re best offensive player is; well, you’d probably get 5 different answers. But looking at salaries, shouldn’t we all equivocally shout, in a “We Are the World” ensemble, led by Justin Beiber himself, “Thomas Vanek!”

Yes, well, if ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas. But they’re not, and the Buffalo Sabres are currently paying Thomas Vanek 6.4 million dollars (cap hit 7.143 million) for 23 goals and 24 assists. To wit; $278,260.87 per goal. $266,666.66 per assist. $136,170.21 per point. But it’s not his production that frustrates me so, it’s the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.

More from Marty on Vanek after the jump.


vanek2.jpgWell, maybe a little bit. But during a week that saw former heroes Chris Drury and Daniel Briere ride their gilded Bentley’s off to New York and Philadelphia, Kevin Lowe offered restricted free agent Thomas Vanek a 7 year, $50 million offer sheet. That offer sheet was matched in minutes.

The rest, they say, is history. Our little Tommy boy has followed up his career year of 43 goals, 41 assists with campaigns of 36 and 28 in 07-08, 40 and 24 in 08-09, and this year with the aforementioned 23 tallies and 24 helpers. So what’s so frustrating about an accomplished in-between-the-dots scorer who’s consistently amongst the top of the league in PP goals?

We could’ve had 4 1st rounders, but not just any 1st rounders, no, no, these would be Edmonton’s 1st rounders. That would’ve been the 22nd pick in 2008, the 10th in 2009, the 1st in 2010, and God knows where in 2011. Yeah, there would’ve been some sparse years in between, but if the Pens and Capitals have taught us anything; you’ve gotta tank before you can dominate.

Now just think about the picks Darcy Regier has made over the past couple years: Nate Gerbe: 2008-2009 AHL Rookie of the Year, Tim Kennedy: 2008-2009 AHL Rookie Point leader, Tyler Myers: 2009-2010 Calder Trophy Winner (yeah, count it), and Tyler Ennis: 2009-2010 AHL Rookie Point leader. Now add Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Tyler Seguin, and another top 10 pick from Edmonton, and my God, these Sabres would be fighting for tops in the East moving forward.

Oh wait; the Sabres already fighting for positioning at the top of the East? Guess we don’t have much to be frustrated about, eh?

New Seattle NHL arena remains on schedule for summer of 2021

SHP
1 Comment

SEATTLE (AP) — The arena for Seattle’s NHL expansion franchise remains on track to open sometime in the summer of 2021.

Construction officials said Monday that the entire bowl of the former KeyArena has been demolished and excavation work is ongoing. Officials hope to begin digging down 15 feet from the current floor by year’s end and to spend most of 2020 constructing the new seating bowl from the bottom up.

Ken Johnsen, who is overseeing the construction project for Oak View Group and the NHL franchise, says the most challenge part so far has been putting in supports to take on the weight of the 44 million-pound roof, which is staying in place. The new arena is being built under the roof, which has historical landmark status.

Johnsen says the budget for the project remains around $930 million.

Previewing the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild

1 Comment

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

Better or worse: If we are comparing the Wild right now to where they were at the beginning of the 2018-19 season it would be difficult to argue that they are better following the in-season trades of Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, and Charlie Coyle. But if we are comparing them to where they were at the end of the 2018-19 season they might be a little better. Mats Zuccarello is another big-money player on the wrong side of 30, but he is still good. Mikko Koivu and Matthew Dumba are returning after missing significant portions of the 2018-19 season. There is also some potential with younger players to maybe take a step forward. The important question is whether or not those improvements are enough to get them back in the playoffs and help them return to contention in the Western Conference.

Strengths: The top half of their defense is really good with Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Dumba leading the way. Suter is the biggest name and the one that gets most of the attention because he never seems to leave the ice, but don’t overlook the other two. Spurgeon just signed a seven-year contract extension to remain with the team and has been a criminally underrated player for most of his career. Dumba, meanwhile, brings a ton of offensive potential from the blue line and was in the middle of a breakout season until an injury sustained in a fight sidelined him for most of the season. Behind them they have an above average goalie in Devan Dubnyk serving as the last line of defense. When he is on his game, he can carry the team and has been one of the league’s most productive goalies since joining the team in them middle of the 2014-15 season.

Weaknesses: The Wild have a lot of really good veteran players and some young players that could become really good players. What they are lacking is great players. They don’t really have anyone that can be a difference-making, impact player that puts the team on their back for a game (or a stretch of games) and carries it. That kind of limits what your team’s ceiling is among the league’s hierarchy of contenders. The other concern is the age of the core. With Spurgeon now re-signed, they now have six players over the age of 30 signed for at least two more seasons. Several of those players are signed beyond the age of 35. How will all of those players hold up during those contracts?

[MORE: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Bruce Boudreau is entering his fourth season as the Wild’s head coach and is already going to be working with his third different general manager. That is kind of shocking, not only because the Wild have gone through that much change in their front office, but that the head coach has outlasted all of it. We will put his hot seat rating as a 6 out of 10. He does not have one foot out the door, but he is probably not totally secure, either.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Jason Zucker, Zach Parise, and Kevin Fiala are the three players worth keeping a close eye on this season.

One of the more bizarre aspects of Paul Fenton’s one year of error in Minnesota was his apparent burning desire to trade Zucker. He has not only been one of the team’s best two-way players and a popular member of the community, but Fenton was also trying to sell him at what was probably his lowest possible value. A similar move with Niederreiter went about as poorly as could have been expected, and repeating the same mistake with Zucker would have been crushing. As it stands now, Zucker is back in Minnesota and should be poised to have a bounce back year offensively.

Speaking of bounce back years, Parise went through one of his own during the 2018-19 season and saw pretty significant improvements in his production across the board. He is almost certainly never going to be a 40-goal, 90-point player again, but was his bounce back a one-year outlier in what has been a steady decline in recent years? Or can the Wild expect similar production this season?

Of all the players Fenton acquired during the 2018-19 season the one that seems most intriguing is Fiala. He is still only 23 years old, has already shown 20-goal ability in the NHL, and has some fairly promising underlying numbers to his game. He is a better player than what he showed immediately after the trade.

Playoffs or lottery: There is a short-term path back to the playoffs for this team, but a lot of things need to go right in order for that to happen. Realistic outcome is this looks like a team that finishes somewhere between 7th and 11th in the Western Conference. Not good enough to truly contend, but not bad enough to play its way into the highest draft lottery odds.

More
Do Wild have short-term path back to playoffs?
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flyers re-sign Travis Konecny to 6-year, $33 million deal

1 Comment

Another domino in the NHL’s restricted free agency saga has fallen.

The Philadelphia Flyers announced on Monday that they have re-signed forward Travis Konecny to a six-year contract that will pay him $5.5 million per year through the end of the 2023-24 season. Konecny was the last of the Flyers’ unsigned RFA’s, and his new deal means that general manager Chuck Fletcher’s offseason checklist is now complete.

“We are happy to have Travis under contract for the next six seasons,” said Fletcher in a statement released by the team. “Travis has shown progression in each of his three seasons and is an integral part of our group of young forwards. His speed, skill and tenacity sets him apart in today’s NHL.”

The 22-year-old Konecny is coming off a 24-goal, 49-point performance for the Flyers a year ago, a stat line that was almost identical to what he did the year before. He figures to be a significant part of the Flyers’ core in the coming seasons and is one of eight players the team has signed through at least 2022, joining Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, James van Riemsdyk, Ivan Provorov, and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Even if he never becomes anything more than a 25-goal, 50-point player that is still a pretty strong contract for the Flyers, and there is still a chance he is capable of more.

With Konecny now signed the list of remaining unsigned RFA’s throughout the league is down to Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Mathew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Brandon Carlo, Julius Honka, Anthony DeAngelo, and Saku Maenalanen.

MORE:
Provorov signs 6-year, $40.5 million deal with Flyers
• 
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHLPA declines to reopen CBA, ensuring labor peace through 2022

3 Comments

There will be labor peace in the NHL for at least the next three years.

The NHLPA announced on Monday that they are declining their option to reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The players could have opted out, which would have meant the current agreement, which ends after the 2021-22 season would have instead concluded on Sept. 15, 2020.

“While players have concerns with the current CBA, we agree with the League that working together to address those concerns is the preferred course of action instead of terminating the agreement following this season,” said NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr in a statement. “We have been having discussions with the League about an extension of the CBA and expect that those talks will continue.”

“We are pleased with the NHL Players’ Association’s decision not to reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with the NHLPA for the benefit of all stakeholders, especially our fans.”

The NHL’s owners had a Sept. 1 deadline to decide if they wanted to reopen the CBA but chose against doing so stating, “Based on the current state of the game and the business of the game, the NHL believes it is essential to continue building upon the momentum we have created with our Players and, therefore, will not exercise its option to reopen the CBA.”

While the league has expressed its happiness with the current agreement and is fine with letting the final three years run out, the players, while they’ve chosen against reopening it, certainly have issues that they want to iron out. As escrow and future Olympic participation stand as two of the biggest topics that require clarity, the fact that  talks between both sides in the lead up to these deadlines have been categorized as fairly positive makes one hopeful for long-term labor peace.

“I can only speak from the League standpoint,” said Bettman during the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago earlier this month. “Obviously there are things that we think are issues in the collective bargaining agreement, but when we balance that against stability and labor peace, we came out in favor of moving forward without the possibility of distraction. The union has to make a similar decision.

“I think in all of our dealings over the years, I think rancor would be a bit of an exaggeration. It’s always been professional. It’s always been cordial. I think the issue comes when there are major issues of disagreement. Even on those issues where we’re focused where a change might be appropriate, we’ve decided now is not the time, and if we can work through our issues and possibly extend the CBA, that would be a good thing.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.