Why the Flyers might not roll the dice with a free agent goalie

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Just about anyone who discusses hockey as a whole will expect the Philadelphia Flyers to go after a goalie this summer. When you look at the big picture, it’s unclear if that would be the best move, though. Peter Laviolette, for one thing, was fairly non-committal regarding that subject today.

To some, it’s an outrageous track to take. But when you think about, there are three big reasons why the Flyers might not be as crazy as they seem.

1. The Flyers could have some salary cap issues

If the cap ceiling rises to $62.2 million for the 2011-12 season as expected, the Flyers would have about $4.5 million in cap space remaining with 18 roster spots covered. While Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Carcillo are toss-ups, the team would probably like to bring Ville Leino and Darroll Powe back. Leino could end up being a bit pricey, so that $4.5 million could go away fast.

The team also has two goalies under contract for next season. Sergei Bobrovsky’s cap hit is $1.75 million and Michael Leighton’s due to make $1.55 million. The team might be able to stash one of those goalies in the minors, but if they pay big for a starter, then they’ll also pay big for a backup.

2. There aren’t many expected gems in the goalie market, either.

The two biggest unrestricted free agents are Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov (and that’s assuming Breezy won’t re-sign with the Phoenix). Beyond those options, there’s two past-their-prime former No. 1 players (Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Marty Turco) and 41-year-old netminder Dwayne Roloson. (Again, that’s assuming that Roloson will even hit the market.)

How certain can the Flyers be that Vokoun or Bryzgalov would succeed in Philly? Vokoun is a stats blogger’s dream goalie while Bryzgalov has been an elite regular season performer in Phoenix, but both goalies are used to very different situations. Each netminder played in smaller markets behind low-octane systems, so what happens when they might play in a more aggressive system with brutal fans?

I’d imagine both would count as upgrades for Philly, but would they be big enough upgrades to justify their expense? The team would probably need to dilute its depth to bring one of those two players in, so they’d have to be certain that one of those goalies would make things better.

If you’re about to scream Evgeni Nabokov’s name, I have two responses: 1) can you imagine how quick Philly fans would turn on Nabby? and 2) how can we know he’ll be any good after a year away from the league?

3. Goalies are unpredictable

The funniest thing about all the Flyers-bashing is that a lot of hockey fans seem to think it’s easy to find a great goalie. It’s almost as if people expect a goalie fairy to wave its magic wand and give you a sure thing in net.

Look around the league and ask yourself: how many teams are glad they’re paying big money for supposed sure-things in net? Let’s take a look at a telling trend in the league, noting the fact that the Flyers will spend about $3.25 million combined on goaltending if they stick with Bobrovsky-Leighton.

Teams who missed the playoffs despite spending $3.5 million or more on a single goalie:

Calgary (Miikka Kiprusoff – $5.88 million); Carolina (Cam Ward – $6.3M); Dallas (Kari Lehtonen – $3.5M); Edmonton (Nikolai Khabibulin – $3.75M); Florida (Vokoun – $5.7M); Minnesota (Niklas Backstrom – $6M); New Jersey (Martin Brodeur – $5.2M); NY Islanders (Rick DiPietro – $4.5M); Ottawa (Pascal Leclaire – $3.8M); St. Louis (Jaroslav Halak – $3.75M); Toronto (Giguere – $6M).

Their results varied, but it’s stunning that 11 out of the 14 teams who missed the playoffs spent big on a single goalie.

Contrast that picture with the lower numbers paid by the Flyers, Capitals, Red Wings, Sharks, Kings, Canadiens* and Lightning. Instead of being crazy, the Flyers might just be grimly realistic about the unstable but important position.

***

Goalies are important but unpredictable beasts. Surely the Flyers would love to find a goalie they can count on, but something tells me they prefer their situation to the locked-in-a-shaky-marriage scenarios faced by teams like the Wild and Flames.

* Carey Price is a solid bargain at $2.75 million per year.

WATCH LIVE: Wild visit Stars on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday night’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app and by clicking here.

As the Stars look to get back to winning ways they likely will be without Alexander Radulov Friday night. A lower-body injury could keep him out against the Wild, which would see Roope Hintz bumped up to the top line, according to head coach Jim Montgomery. Connor Carrick remains out after not showing enough during his time in the lineup, opening the door for Roman Polak to state his case.

Making a return for the Wild will be captain Mikko Koivu after he missed Tuesday’s game for the birth of his son Oskar. Marcus Foligno will also be back.

Meanwhile, it was last April in Dallas where Wild defenseman Ryan Suter suffered a broken ankle. As he once again eats major minutes (26:12 per game) on a nightly basis, he still has some hesitatation when it comes to plays near the boards.

“At different points going back for pucks I try not to put myself in that situation quite yet,” Suter said via the Star Tribune. “That play probably happens five or 10 times [per game]. It’s hard to get around it. You’re a little more hesitant. You think about it a little bit more. Hopefully soon that won’t be on my mind.”

WHAT: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars
WHERE: American Airlines Center
WHEN: Friday, October 19th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVESTREAM: You can watch the Wild-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

WILD
Jason ZuckerEric StaalMatt Read
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Mikael Granlund
Nino NiederreiterCharlie CoyleJordan Greenway
Nate ProsserEric FehrJ.T. Brown

Ryan Suter – Matt Dumba
Jonas BrodinJared Spurgeon
Nick SeelerGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

STARS
Jamie BennTyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov/Roope Hintz
Devin ShoreJason SpezzaTyler Pitlick
Mattias JanmarkRadek FaksaBlake Comeau
Jason Dickinson – Roope Hintz/Gemel SmithBrett Ritchie

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Marc MethotMiro Heiskanen
Julius Honka – Roman Polak

Starting goalie: Ben Bishop

Golden Knights make big gamble on Alex Tuch

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Last season, the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t just set themselves apart by being a hard-charging, hungry group that raised the bar for what an expansion team could accomplish in pro sports. If you’re a believer that “greed is good” in sports, then Vegas was Exhibit A, as the team flourished with a ton of players having a lot to prove.

Well, the days of this team having a remarkably clean slate feel just about over.

The latest long-term, Vegas gamble happened on Friday, as the Golden Knights handed a seven-year, $33.25 million contract extension to 22-year-old winger Alex Tuch.

Tuch is closing out his current contract at $925K, so his $4.75M cap hit will kick in starting in 2019-20.

Wow.

Before we get into the Tuch deal specifically, let’s consider the massive amount of money the Golden Knights invested in a growing group of players, between deals that have kicked in or will begin next season.

Active, mid-to-long-term deals:

Jonathan Marchessault, 27: $5M cap hit through 2023-24
Reilly Smith, 27: $5M through 2021-22
Shea Theodore, 23: $5.2M through 2024-25
Colin Miller, 25: $3.875M through 2021-22
Brayden McNabb, 37: $2.5M through 2021-22
Paul Stastny, 32: $6.5M through 2020-21

Hefty extensions beginning next season:

Tuch, 22, $925K this season, $4.75M through 2025-26
Max Pacioretty, 29, $4.05M this season, $7M through 2022-23
Marc-Andre Fleury, 33, $5.75M this season, $7M through 2021-22

Phew, right?

Keep in mind that, heading into their first season, the Golden Knights only inherited one of the contracts above (getting Smith from Florida), while Marchessault and McNabb were extended during the season. Golden Knights GM George McPhee has been rolling the dice, then, by signing the majority of these contracts after the team enjoyed that stunningly successful run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Committing to hot streaks can burn long-standing franchises, let alone one just beginning its second season in the NHL. While the Patches extension was more palatable term-wise than many feared, it’s still risky. The Marc-Andre Fleury extension, meanwhile, stands as a massive risk.

With MAF, the questions revolve around how much “The Flower” really has left. Conversely, we just haven’t seen much of Alex Tuch.

The Golden Knights are committing to Tuch three years into his UFA phase, and essentially until he’s 30, after seeing him play in just 84 regular-season games and 20 playoff contests at the NHL level. All of Tuch’s production came from last season, when he scored 15 goals and 37 points in 78 contests with Vegas (along with pitching in 10 games during that postseason run).

That’s not a lot of data to go off of, so the Golden Knights are taken a major leap that the best is yet to come from the big forward, who the Wild selected 18th overall in 2014.

The best-case scenario is that the Golden Knights will have answered many of their bigger questions contracts-wise, aside from that of William Karlsson, whose fuzzy situation was delayed with a one-year deal. There’s the possibility that Tuch will be almost as much of a bargain as Marchessault and Smith, who are giving Vegas quality work, in their primes, for just $5M per season.

The worst-case scenario is that Vegas robbed itself of a chance to see Tuch prove himself with one more season of work.

And, zooming out, the Golden Knights might be banking a little too much on rekindling at least some of the magic of their improbable, almost-impossible first season in existence.

To an extent, it’s a matter of human nature, and more foolish teams could have gone in even deeper, possibly maintaining all of Vegas’ additions while also keeping aging wingers James Neal and David Perron around. The Golden Knights showed at least some discipline – they also didn’t shoot themselves in the foot by possibly committing too much, too early to William Karlsson – but the question is, are they showing enough?

Tuch stands as one of the key test cases, but at least this risk allows people to make an array of bad Vegas/gambling jokes. (Hey, that’s human nature, too, really.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rolling chair hockey, fat cartwheels as Dallas Stars face Dude Perfect

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As a Certified Old, I have to admit I didn’t know what “Dude Perfect” is, and perhaps I still don’t know.

(Apparently they’re a sports entertainment group featuring former college pals from Texas A&M who have a massive YouTube following. They describe themselves as “five best friends and a panda,” so that’s a big plus.)

Whatever the case may be, the Dude Perfect gang took on Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, and Jamie Benn in a competition of multiple quasi-sports. You can watch the tightly-contested group of odd contests in the video above, as it’s a good time.

A few personal highlights:

  • The entire rolling chair hockey segment, in general, but especially Seguin’s little goal-scoring dance/shimmy.
  • Jamie Benn doing what sure looked a lot like a fat cartwheel after a golfing triumph.
  • Klingberg getting razzed for his hair. Watch out if the Dude Perfect dudes ever find out about this phase.

Anyway, the video is a good time, so enjoy it in the clip above this post’s headline.

The Stars will face off against the Minnesota Wild in a game of non-rolling-chair hockey at 8 p.m. ET tonight on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Reviewing Erik Karlsson’s start with Sharks

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The San Jose Sharks must have felt some real relief last night.

Not only did they beat the Buffalo Sabres by a convincing 5-1 score, but their power play finally looked about as good on the ice as it looked in nerdy hockey daydreams.

Even so, The Erik Karlsson Experiment remains a work in progress. The Sharks are merely 3-3-1 to begin the 2018-19 season, and Karlsson’s failed to score his first goal with San Jose, settling for four assists in seven games.

That’s such a small sample size that it would be silly to get too concerned … but it’s a small-enough sample that we can also take a look at his work from a game-by-game basis without numbing your scrolling finger:

Oct. 3: 5-2 loss to Ducks (more here).

Peter DeBoer wasn’t shy about rolling Karlsson out during his debut, as the Swede logged 26:48 TOI in what was a frustrating loss to the Ducks.

Karlsson failed to score a point in his first game, suffering a -2 rating, firing one shot on goal, delivering a hit, and blocking two shots.

Oct. 5: 3-2 OT win against Kings.

Karlsson’s second game for San Jose was a busy one. Along with grabbing his first assist with the Sharks, Karlsson logged almost 30 minutes (29:27 TOI), had a +1 rating, fired four SOG, and blocked four shots.

That helper came during Kevin Labanc‘s overtime game-winner, so it was an eventual first point in teal.

Oct. 8: 4-0 loss to Islanders.

Boy, California-area teams have endured some strangely lopsided losses against the would-be woeful Islanders, haven’t they? (The Kings lost 7-2 to the Isles last night).

In what was Karlsson’s on-paper worst performance with the Sharks so far, he failed to generate a point while posting a -3 rating in 28:27 TOI. Karlsson didn’t pull the trigger much in this one, either, managing just one SOG.

Oct. 9: 8-2 win against Flyers.

So, on less rest, the Sharks turned around and bombarded a team that’s expected to be pretty good in the Flyers. Yes, the beginning of an NHL season is often strange; why do you ask?

Despite a relatively modest amount of ice time (23:34), Karlsson produced his only multi-point output of his stay with San Jose so far, collecting two assists. He also fired three SOG, delivered four hits, and enjoyed a +2 rating.

Oct. 11: 3-2 OT loss to the Rangers.

In 26:26 TOI, Karlsson was unable to generate a point in that tight loss to New York. While he finished the night with a -2 rating, Karlsson was pretty active, firing three SOG.

Oct. 14: 3-2 loss to Devils.

This seems like another especially frustrating game for Karlsson and the Sharks. He was whistled for four penalty minutes, and couldn’t notch a point despite landing six SOG. Karlsson finished this loss with a -1 rating in 25 minutes and four seconds of ice time.

Oct. 18: 5-1 win against Sabres.

Last night, Karlsson generated an assist and two SOG in a more limited 20:59 TOI. Interestingly, DeBoer decided to split Karlsson and Brent Burns up on two different power-play units, and it sure seemed to pay off, with San Jose going 3-for-7.

Logan Couture believes that it was a good tweak, as The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reports (sub required).

“I think changing that up and having both of those guys on different units to get the middle of the ice where they’re both comfortable — it felt better as a participant on the power play, and I’m sure it looked better from up top,” Couture said. “Both those guys are comfortable in that spot. They both wanted to be there. I think that gives us two strong units now.”

Oh, Karlsson also made this move last night:

***

So, the game-by-game approach indicates that things are hit-or-miss, as expected from his full seven-game stats.

There are plenty of bright sides, though. For one thing, Karlsson’s possession stats seem as strong as usual, and it looks like DeBoer is going to find ways to get him on the ice in offensive situations.

Some deeper stats should also reassure Karlsson and the Sharks about how his puck luck should soon improve.

Karlsson’s even-strength PDO is a very unlucky 90.7 (100 is something of a cut-off for normal luck), while his on-ice shooting percentage is just 6.3-percent, far below his career average of 8.5. Even Karlsson’s critics would likely acknowledge that he hasn’t been getting many bounces early on in his Sharks career.

Does that mean that the Sharks will find the perfect balance to get the most out of Karlsson, Burns, and their other talented players? That remains to be seen, but expect better results from Karlsson himself, possibly very soon.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.