The NHL’s best bargain contracts: Atlantic Division

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The hockey world tends to focus on the most regrettable contracts rather than the best ones because let’s face it: it’s more enjoyable to make fun of Brian Campbell’s deal than to linger on Dustin Brown’s bargain contract. That being said, clever GMs deserve credit for either finding the right timing to sign a player, judging their value better than most or simply fostering a climate in which a player will take a pay cut. This series of posts will take a look at every team to see which (if any) players deserve to be called bargains.

Notes: entry-level deals don’t count because they have built-in maximum levels. “Loophole” contracts will be considered, but they won’t receive as much consideration because of their inherent salary cap dishonesty. Bought out players will be considered for their current cap hits.

New Jersey Devils – Zach Parise’s previous cap hit ($3.1M) was a true stroke of genius, but their current roster lacks many smart contracts. There was a point in which Martin Brodeur’s $5.2 million cap hit was a minor bargain considering his prestige, but it’s been a while since he’s been worth anywhere near that much.

Travis Zajac ($3.88M) – Could put up bonkers numbers on the Devils’ top line.

source: Getty ImagesNew York Islanders – A young team with some nice steals and a few embarrassing albatrosses.

Matt Moulson ($3.13M) – Moulson’s deal is a borderline bargain, but he has two straight 30+ goal seasons to his credit. There’s a good chance he’ll maintain that pace, so that’s a solid value for the Isles.

Frans Nielsen ($525K) – Nielsen generated some dark horse buzz for the Selke Trophy, yet he’s basically a minimum wage player. His bargain deal will run out after next season, so it will be interesting to see how long he’ll be underpaid. He’s one of the league’s biggest steals right now, though.

Evgeni Nabokov ($570K) – I’ve gone on record of saying that the Isles would get the most out of him if they simply let him be their top goalie, but even if they only get a little bit of a return via the trade route, he’s still a steal. Sure, his contract is funky because it was only originally meant to cover a few months, but it still counts.

Rick DiPietro ($4.5M) – Just kidding.

Honorable mentions: Michael Grabner (we’ll see if he’s a one-hit wonder), Mark Streit (big steal if health permits) and Al Montoya ($600K would be cheap if he is their full-time starter).

source: Getty ImagesNew York Rangers – Glen Sather’s been embarrassing himself with far less regularity lately.

Ryan Callahan ($4.27M) and Brandon Dubinsky ($4.2M) – They’re not the bargains they once were, but could be well-worth the money if their scoring numbers match their intensity for the length of their new contracts.

Marc Staal ($3.98M) – Not a bad price at all considering his importance to the Rangers’ defense.

Honorable mentions: Sean Avery (could actually be worth the trouble if he lines up with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik) and Brian Boyle (a nice bargain if his 21-goal year wasn’t a fluke).

Philadelphia Flyers – They basically got rid of some of their best bargains during the off-season, but do they still have a few steals on their roster?

Claude Giroux ($3.75M) – Even if Giroux might get exposed now that they’re counting on him a lot more than before, he’s still a big-time bargain at this price. The best part is that his outstanding value won’t run out until after the 2014-15 season.

Braydon Coburn ($3.2M) – Not a bad deal for a pretty talented (if easily forgotten) defenseman. The Flyers pay a lot for their defensive corps overall, though.

Honorable mention: Jakub Voracek (could be the next Ville Leino) and Wayne Simmonds (might not score much, but could play the role that Dan Carcillo was too much of a knucklehead to ever pull off).

source: Getty ImagesPittsburgh Penguins – A well-run organization that might kick themselves for signing most of their deals before all the loophole contracts started filtering through.

James Neal ($2.88M) – This choice is a leap of faith based on the kind of numbers he could put up skating alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

Kris Letang ($3.5M) – His numbers plummeted after Crosby and Malkin were out, but he’s a high-scoring blueliner when those two are healthy. It’s tough to argue with Letang at $2 million less than what Sergei Gonchar is making.

Honorable mentions: Jordan Staal (it’s tough to believe that his cap hit is evolving into a small bargain) and Brent Johnson (a cheap, dependable backup).

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Feel free to point out any glaring omissions or faulty inclusions. Again, remember: players on their entry-level deals don’t count so that’s why you won’t see the James van Riemsdyks of the world.

PHT Morning Skate: Caps are officially underdogs; What went wrong with ‘Hawks, Rangers?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• TSN’s Scott Cullen continues his off-season game plan previews by taking a deeper look at what Dallas has to do to make it back to the playoffs. (TSN.ca)

• Rotoworld’s Corey Abbott looks back at what went wrong for the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers in 2017-18. (Rotoworld)

• Down Goes Brown breaks down how the Golden Knights shattered conventional wisdom in the NHL. Their story is fascinating. (Sportsnet)

Alex Galchenyuk has played six seasons in the NHL, but where does he stand with the Montreal Canadiens? Is he a center, is he a winger? (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Believe it or not, the Washington Capitals will be the underdogs heading into the Stanley Cup Final. (CSN Washington)

• Flyers prospect Samuel Morin tore his ACL during an AHL game. He won’t be available until next February. (Broad Street Hockey)

• The Maple Leafs have promoted assistant to the general manager Brandon Pridham to assistant general manager. Somewhere, Dwight Schrute is smiling. (Toronto Sun)

• The fact that Rangers head coach David Quinn has known Jeff Gorten and Chris Drury for many years led him to his new job. (New York Daily News)

• Los Angeles Kings senior advisor Jack Ferreira will not have his contract renewed by the organization. He was around for the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup Championships. (LA Kings Insider)

• The Tennessee Titans will be hosting the 2019 NFL Draft and they have the Nashville Predators to thank for that. (Predlines)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

George McPhee’s strategic moves help Vegas reach Cup Final

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — George McPhee’s endgame has always been about making the Golden Knights contenders.

Strategic moves to keep winning.

The veteran general manager has ridden his savvy all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, a stirring run by the first-year franchise and the first major sports team in Las Vegas. While the expansion draft gets most of the attention in attempts to explain the unusual success, the moves made by McPhee in late February, when the trade deadline came along, have proven just as important.

”I wanted to wait as long as we could to determine what we had as a team,” McPhee recalled. ”At the trade deadline we felt it was a very good team. But it was getting thin, we were getting banged up, guys out of the lineup, we had other guys playing hurt. We wanted to do the very best we could for this team that was playing its guts out, to help it.”

He began moving pawns across the NHL chessboard, starting with the acquisition of forward Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for three draft picks: a first-round pick in 2018, a second-round pick in 2019 and a third-round pick in 2021. Tatar brought with him a contract worth $15.9 million through the 2020-21 season.

While the Golden Knights did send Brendan Leipsic to Vancouver for Philip Holm, perhaps the biggest trade was the one for bruising forward Ryan Reaves from Pittsburgh, a move that included the Golden Knights acquiring 40 percent of Derick Brassard‘s contract. Brassard going to Pittsburgh from Ottawa meant the talented center would not be going to Winnipeg – the team Vegas just beat in a rugged Western Conference final.

Many wondered whether the trade would be worth it given Reaves’ notoriety for physical play. But Reaves brought some brawn to the Golden Knights and scored the game-winning goal in Game 5 at Winnipeg.

”We just thought when we get into the games down the stretch and we’re in the playoffs, we can have a guy that can play the game right,” McPhee said. ”Ryan did a good job of providing the line and getting us good, hard, safe minutes on some nights. Even though they’re not scoring like some of the other lines, they’re one of our better lines because they’re playing the game right. The other team isn’t getting chances, we’re keeping it deep on them and playing physical on them.”

McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant also wanted to make sure the chemistry built over the first five months of the inaugural season wasn’t disrupted. And that meant keeping most of the lineup intact.

That included unrestricted free agents David Perron and James Neal, both of whose names swirled in trade rumors, and at the beginning of the season were perceived as rentals until the deadline. Nobody saw the Golden Knights doing as well they did, so it was conceivable guys like Perron and Neal could’ve been sent to playoff contenders for future draft picks or younger, up-and-coming players by the deadline.

As it turned out, Perron and Neal were already on a playoff contender and on their way to stellar seasons. Perron registered a career-high 66 points in the regular season, while Neal piled up 25 goals, scoring at least 20 in each of his first 10 NHL seasons. The only other current players to do the same: Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and Thomas Vanek.

”We knew that we weren’t moving anybody out,” Gallant said. ”We were happy with our lineup, we were happy with the group of players we got. We talked about adding players to our team, to make our team better and we definitely did that. But there was no thought about moving any of players out at that time. We had a great season, everything was going good and we wanted to make sure we had enough security for a playoff run and that’s what they did.”

The Golden Knights await the winner of the East final between Tampa Bay and Washington, with Game 7 set for Wednesday night. The Stanley Cup Final begins Monday.

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
Stanley Cup Final Schedule

Virginia town changes name to ‘Capitalsville’ for Stanley Cup Final (Update)

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The Washington Capitals are headed back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years and Lovettsville, Virginia (pop. of around 2,000) is getting behind the team in a unique way. Come Friday, the town could have an entirely new name.

Earlier this month, Lovettsville Mayor Robert J. Zoldos proposed that if the Capitals beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, he would attempt to get city council approval to temporarily rename the town “Capitalsville.” The name change would last until either the Capitals lost in the Final to the Vegas Golden Knights or until a week after they capture their first title.

From Loudoun Now:

The renaming would be akin to how the Washington, PA, City Council renamed its town “Steeler, PA” for a week in 2006 when the Pittsburgh Steelers played in, and won, Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks.

Zoldos said that as he watched Wednesday night’s game at Velocity Wings across the street from the Lovettsville Town Office, he wasn’t expecting the Capitals to pull off a blowout against the Lightning like they did. In fact, he was too nervous to even write the resolution for tonight’s meeting until after the team won. “The game was just incredible,” he said.

The vote takes place Thursday night with four approvals needed, which given the excitement around the D.C. area should come pretty easy.

There will be perks to go along with “Capitalsville” and a Capitals championship. Along with signage promoting the new name around town, there have been discussions with the team about viewing parties, as well as having players involved in a parade should they end up defeating the Golden Knights.

Stick-tap Frank

UPDATE: The proposal was approved by a unanimous vote on Thursday night. Lovettsville, Va. will now be known as Capitalsville, Va. for the next few weeks.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
Stanley Cup Final Schedule

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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.

How Lightning keep coming up just short

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Let’s have a discussion about the Tampa Bay Lightning, shall we?

On one hand, they have recently been one of the NHL’s most successful teams.

They have reached at least the Eastern Conference Final in three of the past four seasons, and that includes a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. The one year they did not reach the conference final during this run they missed the playoffs by a single point in a year where they were decimated by injuries, including a crushing one to their top player — Steven Stamkos — that sidelined him for almost all of the season.

By any definition this is a wildly successful organization.

They are well run by a smart, innovative front office that has exploited a lot of areas where other teams have had blind spots (the Lightning do not shy away from undersized forwards; they are not afraid to draft players from Russia).

They have one of the best coaches in the NHL in Jon Cooper, who has won at every single level, winning championships in the USHL and AHL, and then coaching in a Cup Final.

They have great players all over the lineup including two of the top forwards in the league (Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov), an elite No. 1 defenseman (Victor Hedman), and a Vezina Trophy finalist (Andrei Vasilevskiy).

They have a steady pipeline of young talent that keeps coming through the system to give them a deep, talented roster.

They are not afraid to go all in and make a big move to add to their roster at the deadline.

They win a lot of games and go deep in the playoffs. There is a lot to be said for all of this.

Yet, even with all of that it still kind of feels like it has all been a somewhat disappointing run because they keep coming up just a little bit short.

Maybe “disappointing” is too strong of a word because it is damn hard to keep consistently reaching the final four every year. As I wrote a few days ago when talking about the Capitals having to once again face their postseason demons, sports is ultimately a story of failure. Championships are hard to come by and even getting within a stone’s throw of one is an incredible challenge. It is not necessarily a failure to lose in the Cup Final or lose in the conference final ever year.

But it still feels like there has been a big opportunity missed here to get a championship.

What makes it seem like such a big missed opportunity for the Lightning is the way they keep falling short in these situations, completely falling apart and going out with a whimper when they seem to be in control of a series.

Let’s start with this year’s loss in the Eastern Conference Final to the Capitals.

After falling into an 0-2 series hole by dropping the first two games on home ice, the Lightning roared back with three consecutive wins to seemingly take control of the series, sitting just one win shy of going back to the Final.

They not only failed to get that one win, they failed to score a goal in the two games that followed, losing by a combined score of 7-0. In the process they were completely outplayed, outclassed, and thoroughly dominated by the Capitals in pretty much every phase of the game. Prior to that meltdown the Lightning were 11-4 in this year’s playoffs (8-2 in the first two rounds, including a rather convincing thumping of a really good Boston Bruins team) after finishing the regular season as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. To call it an underwhelming exit based on everything that preceded it would be an understatement.

If that script sounds familiar it’s probably because it is nearly identical to what happened to them in 2016. After winning back-to-back games to take a 3-2 series lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Lightning returned home for Game 6 with a chance to clinch what would have been a second consecutive trip to the Cup Final. Instead, they came out on home ice and completely laid an egg, falling behind 3-0 through two periods and putting themselves in a hole they could not dig out of. They were outscored 7-3 in the final two games of that series.

In the 2015 Cup Final, the Lightning won two of the first three games against the Chicago Blackhawks. They then proceeded to score just two goals for the remainder of the series, dropping three games in a row to lose the series.

The common denominator in all of those late series collapses is an offense that just completely vanishes with the season and series on the line. When that happens the focus always shifts to the team’s top players, and in this case that would be Stamkos and Kucherov.

Let’s start with Stamkos, who has now played in six career Game 7s and, well, the numbers are not kind.

Harsh … but fair.

Things are not much better for Kucherov who has zero points and only seven shots on goal in four career Game 7s.

I am not a fan of making big picture judgements about players based on individual games or even individual playoff series’ because there is a lot of times a lot of noise and randomness there, and it’s not like these two players haven’t performed at other times in the playoffs. All playoff games are big games. All playoff games are pressure situations.

Among active players that have appeared in at least 50 playoff career playoff games Kucherov has the second-highest goals per game average in the league, trailing only some guy named Ovechkin.

Stamkos’ overall playoff production drops a bit from his normal regular season numbers, but it is not a huge drop and he is still very productive overall.

But you can not hide from those numbers in Game 7s. They are rough, and if you extend it to potential elimination games (games where either the Lightning are facing elimination or can knock out an opponent) he has just five goals in 20 such games. When the team not only doesn’t win, but also bows out the way they have those numbers are going to be talked about.

The frustrating thing about this there really isn’t anything the Lightning can do about it.

At least, there is nothing they should do about it. This isn’t a situation that calls for drastic changes. This isn’t something that requires an overhaul of the team or its core or the way it operates or the way it plays. The worst thing they can do is overreact and conclude that they are doing something wrong. It is obvious the team is good. The team has shown it is capable of going deep in the playoffs and making a serious run at a championship. When you get to Game 7 of the Conference Final or five or six games deep into the Stanley Cup Final you are often times literally just a single shot, call, or bounce away.

Sometimes it goes your way. Sometimes it does not.

If there is a lesson to be learned here it should be taken from the Capitals themselves because for years they were the team sitting in the Lightning’s current position (only not quite as good because they were not even going as deep in the playoffs as the Lightning have) of consistently coming up just short in every painful way imaginable no matter how great the team was. The parallels are striking, right down to having one of this generations top goal-scorers. At times the Capitals made some philosophical mistakes in the way they played, and maybe a coaching blunder or two (hello Dale Hunter and Adam Oates era), but they stuck with their superstars. They stuck with the players that kept getting them close and believed that eventually things would go their way.

They finally are going their way.

Until that happens for the Lightning, though, they are going to be stuck facing criticism for not being able to get the job done and missing a big opportunity.

The Capitals are in the process of rewriting their story.

Now the Lightning have replaced them in the “you were so close, how did you lose this?” discussion.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final 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.