One year later, Blackhawks salary cap situation much easier to handle

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When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, part of their immediate hangover was in having to deal with salary cap problems for the following season. When players like Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Patrick Kane had their bonuses figured into matters, the Blackhawks had over $4 million in bonus overages applied to last season’s cap.

With those overages, the Blackhawks were forced to make a lot of difficult roster decisions and ended up letting go of key Cup-winning players like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Antti Niemi, and Brent Sopel while paying up big to retain Niklas Hjalmarsson. Without those guys in the lineup last year and having to fill holes with cheaper players from within and via free agency, the Blackhawks finished eighth in the Western Conference and snuck into the playoffs. While they nearly upset the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, they lost in seven games.

This summer, without major bonus overages the Blackhawks have rebuilt the team and made them tougher signing defensemen Sean O’Donnell and Steve Montador as well as tough forwards Dan Carcillo and Jamal Mayers. They also added some solid veteran scoring in Andrew Brunette and retained restricted free agents Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg. Suffice to say, things were a bit more enjoyable for GM Stan Bowman and Adam Jahns of The Chicago Sun-Times gets the word from Bowman about how much nicer this summer was than last year as far as team building goes.

Last year, the Hawks had more than $4.1 million of performance bonus overages from their Stanley Cup-winning season counting against the salary cap. This year, it’s significantly less. Bowman said there were about $100,000 worth of bonuses from last season counting against this year’s cap, notably from wingers Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg.

‘‘It’s nice to not have that penalty and have the full use of the salary cap at your disposal,’’ Bowman told the Sun-Times on Friday. ‘‘We’re in such a different spot. We’re probably going to go into the year with probably close to $4 million in cap space as well. That’s with a lot of players. . . . We were nowhere near that last year.’’

Frolik was the biggest recipient, Bowman said. He was in the final year of his entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers, who drafted him 10th overall in 2006. Stalberg, a former sixth-round pick who was in the last year of his original two-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, received a bonus for games played.

Dealing with bonuses and the salary cap aren’t the most fun things to do when you’re a NHL general manager and in Bowman’s case he essentially threw whatever he had at 2010 to make sure they won the Stanley Cup. That kind of executive effort will make sure he never has to pay for dinner again in the Windy City, but maintaining a winning team is what he’s there to do. The Blackhawks survived last season and while they didn’t win the Cup, the team’s effort was admirable after all the turnover they had with the roster.

In 2011-2012, they’ll have a lot of the same production players back and filling holes with role players like Montador, O’Donnell, Brunette, and Mayers will make them a tougher team to deal with. In the Western Conference, that sort of play can take you a long way and for Chicago, they’re hoping there’s not as long of a drought between Cup victories as there was the last time.

Can Coyotes keep playoff hopes alive without Raanta?

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One of the saddest phrases in sports is “[Player X] would really have been something, if only they could stay healthy.”

Some argue that avoiding injuries counts as a “skill,” and it’s plausible that certain players may simply be better at staying healthy than others, but there are still instances when the injury gods feel awfully cruel.

We’re rapidly approaching that point with Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta.

Even with a challenging start to 2018-19 (just a .906 save percentage over 12 games), Raanta’s been fantastic for the Coyotes so far … when he’s been able to actually play.

That caveat was frustrating last season, as Raanta missed crucial chunks of time – most painfully being unhealthy as the Coyotes went without a win in October 2017 – yet was essentially elite when he could play, generating a splendid .930 save percentage in 47 games.

Unfortunately for the Coyotes, it’s looking like 47 Raanta appearances would have been a gift compared to the likely reality. The team announced that the 29-year-old goalie is out “indefinitely,” while The Athletic’s Craig Morgan provided a more detailed (and more troubling) update: Raanta might miss the rest of this season.

Brutal.

It’s fair to wonder if this might become the story of Raanta’s career.

Again, the Finn fought nagging injuries last season, and this year’s been even worse. At 29, he’s not ancient, but Raanta isn’t exactly a spring chicken, either. (If you need a glum example of how quickly a goalie can start looking older-and-more-fragile, look at all of the injury headaches Carey Price has been dealing with at just 31.)

That said, Raanta’s limited starts pre-Arizona came from him being a backup, not necessarily from injuries. There’s the hope that, in hindsight, these past two years will look like speed bumps rather than Raanta’s promising career hitting a brick wall. If nothing else, Raanta is listed at just 6-0, so he’s not one of those prototypical towering goalies whose huge frames only increase odds of additional injuries.

Either way, Raanta’s lengthy absence deals an enormous blow to the Coyotes’ fledgling playoff hopes.

You could argue that they’d be in tough to land a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs even with a keyed-in Raanta. As of this writing, Arizona’s record is 13-13-2 for 28 points in as many games, leaving them in 12th place in the West (five points behind Vegas for the final wild card spot, and seven behind Anaheim for the Pacific’s third seed).

Various projections aren’t totally dismissing the Coyotes’ chances of waging a comeback, but few give them much better than a 20-percent shot to pull that off … and those odds likely only drop once you factor in Raanta’s absence.

The Coyotes haven’t just been without Raanta, who’s been sidelined since Nov. 27. Backup goalie Darcy Kuemper has been hurt, too, making way for Adin Hill and waiver claim Calvin Pickard. To Hill’s credit, he began with a four-game winning streak and currently boasts a .939 save percentage, but his larger history indicates that he probably won’t be able to produce such results over the long haul.

All of this leaves Coyotes GM John Chayka in a tough spot.

If you’re the Coyotes, do you try to trade for a more seasoned goalie, particularly one on an expiring contract?

Or, do you do the uncomfortable and all-too-familiar, and punt on the season?

This Coyotes team is structured largely to compete, with an increasing number of longer-term contracts crowding the team’s salary cap.

Granted, the Coyotes have an interesting player or two. Would someone pay up some futures to land, say, Alex Galchenyuk? The 24-year-old’s endured a quiet first season with Arizona (just 11 points in 21 games), but there’s plenty of talent there. While Galchenyuk isn’t on an easy-to-move expiring contract, his deal doesn’t last much longer, as his affordable $4.9 million cap hit runs out after 2019-20. If you’re a contender, would you hand the Coyotes some futures to add some skill for Galchenyuk, particularly if the Coyotes absorbed a contract you wanted to get rid of (and/or retained some of Galchenyuk’s salary?).

It’s not pleasant to discuss who the Coyotes might sell off in a trade, and it’s even more unpleasant to wonder if Raanta will be injury-prone for the remainder of his career, but Arizona at least needs to ponder these scenarios. They might not have much of a choice, even if Raanta technically finds a way to play a bit toward the end of this season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Zach Hyman suspended two games for hit on Charlie McAvoy

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Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman was suspended for two games thanks to his late hit on Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins.

Hyman received a major penalty and game misconduct for the hit, which was considered interference. He also fought with Matt Grzelcyk following that check on McAvoy. It’s plausible that Hyman lost his cool as the Maple Leafs were on their way to a 6-3 loss to the Bruins on Saturday.

The league notes that the check came well after McAvoy released the puck, describing Hyman’s infraction as a “late, forceful, high hit.” The “predatory nature” of the hit also factored into Hyman being suspended.

Here’s video of the hit, along with the NHL Department of Player Safety’s explanation for the suspension:

This counts as Hyman’s first NHL suspension, something that was mentioned in the league’s video. So far, it seems like McAvoy wasn’t injured by the check, but sometimes players realize they’ve been injured more than a day following a collision. (It would certainly be crucial if McAvoy avoids missing time, as the Bruins are very banged-up right now.)

You can see the fight in this Sportsnet clip:

If McAvoy ends up being OK (or mostly OK), this could go down as a nice weekend for the Bruins, as Boston also beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 in OT on Sunday.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Flyers’ Robert Hagg ejected for checking Kyle Connor from behind

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The Philadelphia Flyers did not have a very pleasant start to their Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg.

Already trailing 5-1 late in the second period, defenseman Robert Hagg was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking Jets forward Kyle Connor from behind into the boards.

Here is a look at the play.

Connor went straight to the Jets’ locker room for the remainder of the second period but was back on the bench for the start of the third period.

That play resulted in a little scrum after the fact that also saw Jets defender Dustin Byfuglien get a two-minute minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct.

Given that Hagg was ejected from the game you can be sure the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will take an extra look at it. We will likely find out later on Sunday or Monday if it is worthy of any additional discipline.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman to have hearing for late hit on Bruins’ McAvoy

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Given all of the late hits that have happened around the NHL over the past couple of weeks that did not result in a disciplinary hearing, it was easy to think Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman was going to avoid any supplemental discipline for his hit on Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy on Saturday night.

But this one may have been too late to ignore.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Sunday that Hyman will have a disciplinary hearing for interference.

Hyman was ejected from the game for the hit, while McAvoy, who just recently returned to the lineup, was injured as a result.

You can see the play in the video above.

[Related: Maple Leafs’ Hyman ejected for late hit on Bruins Charlie McAvoy]

There have been a number of controversial, late hits around the NHL in recent weeks from Ryan Reaveshit on Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson (that left Wilson concussed and still sidelined), to Tom Wilson’s hit on New Jersey Devils forward Brett Seney, to this hit by Dallas Stars forward Brett Ritchie on Pittsburgh Penguins defender Jusso Riikkola.

All were clearly late hits that were initiated long after their opponents had moved the puck.

While Reaves and Wilson were ejected for their hits, they did not rise to the level of supplemental discipline because they did not target the head or result in significant head contact. That is usually the line the NHL draws for late hits unless it is an egregiously late hit. This one did not appear to contact the head, but it was definitely late and sent McAvoy dangerously into the boards.

None of these hits are acceptable or examples of good clean hockey. They are not even examples of a player “finishing their check.” They are reckless hits on players that are not eligible to be hit, and in some cases are resulting in injuries. If those types of hits continue the NHL will have to start doing more than just ejecting and penalizing the players that distribute them.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.