The Chip ‘n’ Chase: So many bad contracts, coaches on the hot seat, the NHL in Vegas? and more!

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Every Wednesday, we publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We call it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I was just looking back at the list of free agents who signed big, long-term deals with new teams over the summer. Not many success stories, to say the least. David Clarkson and Stephen Weiss are off to terrible starts. Ryane Clowe has barely played. I guess Vincent Lecavalier’s been OK. And while I’ll concede that Valtteri Filppula and Mike Ribeiro have been decent, let’s just say I worry for the Florida Panthers when I hear their new owner saying stuff like, “We intend on being in the free-agent market in a significant way. We’re here to build a winner. … We want to patiently win now.” Vinnie Viola may have an awesome name, but I’m not positive his “patiently win now” strategy is a good one. Or even theoretically possible.

Mike Halford: I worry about this approach, too. Remember when Terry Pegula tried it in Buffalo? If you don’t, watch this video of a landfill on fire; it’s basically the same thing. Giving a general manager gobs of cash to “fix” things in free agency is like putting down your credit card at the bar — once the fun is over, all you’re left with are receipts and regret (“$27 million for Ville Leino? I did that?”) In a lot of cases, the real value in free agency is in the flawed, cheap guys that are still hanging around after the more attractive players have been signed. There’s another bar analogy I could use for this, but I won’t.

source: APJB: I just pictured Mason Raymond sitting alone on a bar stool. He looked so sad and lonely when the lights came on. Nathan Gerbe and Mike Santorelli were there too, singing a duet on karaoke. I’m not comfortable with this analogy anymore. But I will say that all three of those guys have been solid bargain pick-ups. Gerbe and Santorelli actually signed two-way deals; that’s how little leverage they had in negotiations. Of course, the problem with going after the “flawed” guys is you can totally strike out on them, and then you look like a terrible GM. Like what was Jim Rutherford thinking with Mike Komisarek? And did Mike Gillis miss the memo that Zach Hamill was a bust? You win some, you lose some. But at least with the bargain guys, your losses aren’t crippling. Here’s a question: of all the teams in the NHL, which one do you think has the worst collection of contracts?

MH: I think the obvious response is “Philadelphia,” or “the Flyers,” or “whatever team Paul Holmgren’s in charge of.” But after some serious number-crunching…yeah, it’s still the Flyers. Put it this way — there’s a spirited debate to be had over who has the worst contract in Philly. Is it six-goal man Scott Hartnell, who’s earning $4.75 million per season until 2019? Is it Niklas Grossmann, who somehow got $14 million after playing just 22 games for the Flyers? Can’t imagine anybody in Philly’s happy that Luke Schenn, who’s been a healthy scratch this season, is making $3.6 million this year… and next year… and the year after that. Oh, and we haven’t even broached the old-man Mark Streit deal yet. Or the Ilya Bryzgalov buyout. Or the…

JB: You could have a good career as a PHT commenter with that rant against Holmgren. It’s not a particularly well-paying career, but it does have dental, oddly enough. I think a lot of people would answer the Flyers to that question, but let’s be honest, they’re not the only franchise with multiple bad contracts. I’m looking at New Jersey and seeing quite a few under-performers. Ditto for Washington. You already mentioned the Sabres, though at least they have their two compliance buyouts left. Which brings us to the Leafs, who don’t have any compliance buyouts left and, in my opinion, rival the Flyers in terms of bad contracts. I already mentioned Clarkson, a 29-year-old forward with 99 career NHL goals, which doesn’t seem to mesh with that $36.75 million contract. I wouldn’t have given Tyler Bozak the money he got either. And nobody’s been willing to take John-Michael Liles off their hands. The Leafs are a bad team. They have three regulation wins in their last 21 games. Read that again. That’s awful. At this rate, I’m not sure if Randy Carlyle lasts the season.

MH: Totally agree about Carlyle; his job has to be on the line. And remember, Dave Nonis didn’t hire him. He was a Brian Burke guy. But you know what’s so typical? Both Carlyle and Jack Capuano are feeling major heat just months after getting consideration for the Jack Adams. I’ve actually been thinking more about a coach who received exactly zero Jack Adams votes last year: Claude Noel. Have you listened to this guy after the Jets lose? Might be the most critical coach in the league, and he delivers his message with the subtlety of a shovel to the face. After Tuesday’s loss in Buffalo, he accused the Jets of just showing up to play, then said “[and] we’re not good enough to play that way.” Other great moments in morale-boosting include Noel saying “it’s not like we’re world-beaters,” calling the Jets’ power-play “demoralizing,” and — here’s my favorite — lamenting the fact he doesn’t have “enough players to sit everybody.” Then there’s his relationship with Evander Kane. Put it this way — if you’re a kid and Noel and Kane are your parents, um, wouldn’t it be totally awesome to have two Christmases every year?

source:  JB: From all I’ve read, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is loathe to fire Noel. And really, at this point, the team is all but out of the playoff race. Might be best to wait until the summer if it’s going to happen. If I had to guess, Kane will be traded eventually. Might be very soon, might be a bit later. But he clearly has an issue with the organization, and I doubt the Jets are head-over-heels in love with him, talented as he may be. But there I go again, making a big deal out of some dumb picture he took in Vegas. Typical media, always trying to stir it up. So while I’m at it, I think Dustin Byfuglien could get traded too. But that’s mostly because the Jets have Jacob Trouba now. Kid’s only 19 and he’s playing 20 minutes a game. Not too shabby.

MH: You mentioned Kane in Vegas, so I gotta ask — what do you think of all this talk of the NHL expanding to Sin City? Repeat: NHL IN VEGAS. This idea is so money Kane could make 100 money phones out of it. I also enjoy that the Maloofs have been floated as potential owners. Can you even imagine? Let’s ask the Google machine what it thinks about that:

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I think the last one is my favorite.

JB: I really don’t care who owns the team. The Maloofs? Jerry Bruckheimer? Carrot Top? Sure, whatever. I just need it to happen. I can’t imagine the players would have a problem with a few road trips there either. I wonder where the visiting teams would stay. The Bellagio? Another big casino? I could see that being an issue. “He can’t play. He’s got an upper-body injury.” “Could you be more specific, coach?” “Blackjack elbow, day to day. Any other questions?”

MH: “Why are you wearing a leisure suit?”


The Buzzer: Elvis, Ovechkin, and others who rocked

Elvis Ovechkin three stars pht buzzer
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Three Stars beyond Elvis and Ovechkin

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago blowing out Toronto will lead to some hand-wringing, no doubt. Yet, as much as that was on a tough night for Frederik Andersen, give the Blackhawks some credit. Toews topped all in that game with an outstanding four-point performance (two goals and two assists).

Saturday continued what’s been one heck of a month for Toews. The Blackhawks captained pushed his January total to 15 points (5G, 10A). Toews reached that total in just eight games, scoring at least one point in seven contests.

Scratch that. Toews has been on fire for a while now. He started off ice-cold with only two points in 11 October games. Toews took off after that, and has generated an impressive 41 points in his past 28 contests.

Underrated rookie Dominik Kubalik contributed to Chicago’s win, too, with three points (2G, 1A).

2. Riley Sheahan, Edmonton Oilers

Sheahan scoffs at Toews’ slow start. The journeyman forward failed to score a point in 12 October games, and managed one in 11 November contests. Sheahan went and matched his December points total (four in 14 GP) in one contest on Saturday.

That’s right, he generated four points, scoring an empty-netter plus three assists. Connor McDavid dominated in his own right with two goals, but Sheahan helped the Oilers rout the Coyotes. Josh Archibald generated three points (1G, 2A) as well.

This just in: the Oilers have a lot of “that guy’s still around?” forwards. It’s honestly cool to see some of them have such a strong day, and maybe take a bit of the pressure off McDavid here and there.

3. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s as though Atkinson never missed any time. After scoring a goal and an assist in his first game in almost one month on Thursday, Atkinson generated three points (2G, 1A) on Saturday. This gives Atkinson seven points (4G, 3A) in his past four contests.

Others give Atkinson a run for his money, even beyond the next section. Jason Zucker (1G, 2A) and James van Riemsdyk (1G, 2A) both contributed to their respective teams’ blowouts. Atkinson’s extra goal gives him the edge.

OK, now let’s consider Elvis and Ovechkin

Saturday featured enough strong performances that it feels better to give these two a mention. After all, they already received their own posts. Yes, these two probably rank as the “real” third and fourth stars of Saturday, or higher, depending upon your personal taste.

Highlight of the Night

Marc-Andre Fleury is suffering through a tough season, big-picture wise. “The Flower” keeps adding to his resume of breathtaking saves, though:

Comic relief

Jamie Benn provides us with a reason to laugh. At least those of us who aren’t immediately transported to our own memories of hilarious blunders.

That video summarizes the Stars’ night succinctly, as the Wild beat them 7-0.

Factoids

  • Ovechkin nabbed consecutive hat tricks to push his career goals total to 692. He passed Mario Lemieux (11th all-time, 690) and tied Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time (692). Mark Messier sits just two goals away at eighth with 694. Ovechkin also generated consecutive hat tricks for the third time in his career. In doing so, Ovechkin joined Joe Malone (four times) and Wayne Gretzky (three) as the only players to generate consecutive hat tricks three or more times, according to NHL PR. Again, this post delves deeper into Ovechkin’s latest accomplishments.
  • Ovechkin’s teammate John Carlson reached 60 points. Carlson managed the feat in just 49 games, getting to 60 faster than any Capitals defenseman; Mike Green held the previous mark with 60 by game 57. Opinion: Green deserved better treatment from hockey folks during his peak years.
  • Merzlikins authored the 18th instance of a rookie goalie getting a shutout of at least 41 saves, via NHL PR.
  • Cale Makar scored his 11th goal, setting a new record for goals by a rookie Avalanche defenseman.
  • Dominik Kubalik reached 20 goals in his 47th game. NHL PR points out that Kubalik ranks among sixth Blackhawks to reach 20 goals in 50 games or less.

Scores

WSH 6 – NYI 4
COL 5 – STL 3
EDM 7 – ARI 3
OTT 5 – CGY 2
CHI 6 – TOR 2
MTL 5 – VGK 4 (SO)
FLA 4 – DET 1
PHI 4 – LAK 1
CBJ 5 – NJD 0
NSH 2 – BUF 1
MIN 7 – DAL 0
VAN 4 – SJS 1

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.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

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.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

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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.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.