Get your game notes: Blues at Avalanche

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Colorado Avalanche hosting the St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• Head-to-head: This is the 3rd of 5 meetings this season between these Central Division foes…

• Nov. 1: STL W 3-2 (SO) at home: Blues F Vladimir Tarasenko scored both goals in regulation before teammate F Joakim Lindstrom scored the game’s lone shootout goal.

• Dec. 13: STL W 3-2 (OT) at COL: Avalanche D Erik Johnson scored twice in regulation and G Calvin Pickard made 39 saves, but STL F T.J. Oshie scored in overtime to give the Blues a road win.

• STL and COL will play again on Dec. 29 in St. Louis – their 3rd matchup in a 17-day span.

• Overall, STL has won 6 of the last 7 games vs. COL, including 3 straight in Colorado at Pepsi Center.

• St. Louis finishing a road trip: The Blues are closing a 3-game trip tonight, and are looking for their first win (0-1-1). They have lost two straight after winning 5 in a row from Dec. 6 to Dec. 16…

• The Blues dropped a 6-4 contest in LA on Thurs. before losing 3-2 (OT) Sat. night in San Jose.

• St. Louis squandered a 3-0 lead to the Kings, and allowed the game-tying goal to the Sharks with 21 seconds remaining in regulation.

• The 9 goals given up in the past 2 games by STL are the most in any 2-game stretch this season. The last time the Blues gave up 9 goals in a 2-game span was last December, also in a pair of losses in SJ and LA.

• St. Louis has not lost 3 straight games all season.

• Colorado returns home: The Avs got 5 of a possible 6 points (2-0-1) on their recent 3-game Eastern-Conference road trip…

• Dec. 18: L 1-0 (OT) at PIT

• Dec. 20: W 5-1 at BUF

• Dec. 21: W 2-1 (SO) at DET

• COL is looking for its first 3-game win streak of the season.

• Overall, COL has points in 5 straight games (3-0-2).

• STL enters with the top power play in the NHL (25.4%).

• The Blues are 10-for-22 (45.5%) with the man-advantage over the last 7 games, including 4 games with 2+ power-play goals. The Blues are 5-1-1 in that stretch.

• COL will provide a stout penalty kill unit on the other side, ranking 7th in the NHL (85.8%).

• St. Louis (45 points) trails Central Division-leading Chicago by 3 points with a game in hand. Nashville (46 points) is also just ahead of the Blues in the division race.

• Colorado is the lone Central team without an above-.500 record. The Avs sit last in the division and 12th in the West.

• Through 33 games last season, the Avs were 22-10-1 (45 points) and sat 3rd in the Central Division.
This season, the Avs are well short of that mark with 32 points.

BLUES TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• F Vladimir Tarasenko leads the team in goals (20; T-2nd in NHL), points (37; T-6th in NHL), and plus/minus rating (+18; 3rd in NHL).

• Tarasenko needs one goal to tie his career high of 21, which he set last season in 64 GP.

• Tarasenko saw his 7-game point streak (6G-5A) snapped against SJ on Saturday.

• The Blues are 34-5-0 all-time in the regular season when Tarasenko scores a goal.

• Like Tarasenko, D Kevin Shattenkirk had a point streak snapped against SJ (2G-4A in 4-game streak).

• Shattenkirk is 2nd on the Blues in scoring (28 points), and that number is good for second among NHL d-men (Mark Giordano, CGY – 34 points).

• Shattenkirk’s 18 power play points (4G-14A) lead all NHL skaters.

• Colorado drafted Shattenkirk 14th overall in 2007, and in 2011 he was traded in a multi-player deal to
STL. The Blues gave up 2006 #1 overall pick D Erik Johnson in the deal.

• D Alex Pietrangelo, part of Canada’s gold-medal winning team in Sochi, leads STL in TOI/G (25:44 TOI/G).

• Pietrangelo has an active 7-game point streak (1G-6A). He had a career-high 9-gm point streak in Jan. 2012.

• F Jori Lehtera, who turns 27 today, has just 1 goal in his past 16 games. He is 4th on STL with 25 points.

• G Jake Allen and G Martin Brodeur have been sharing time since G Brian Elliott’s injury on Nov. 25.

• Brodeur is 2-2-0 in his 4 games with the Blues, and was in net for the 6-4 loss in LA on Thursday. Brodeur allowed 6 goals in the game, and has posted a 3.59 GAA and .882 SV% this season.

• Brodeur has never faced off against Colorado Head Coach Patrick Roy since Roy became a coach.
Brodeur did not play in either of the two Devils-Avalanche games last season.

• Brodeur (690 wins) and Roy (551 wins) are the two winningest goaltenders in NHL history.

• Allen is 3-0-1 in his past 4 starts, and has posted an overall record of 11-3-2 this season. Allen started in the overtime loss on Saturday vs. San Jose, and has a 2.49 GAA and .907 SV% this season.

AVALANCHE TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• 35-year-old F Alex Tanguay leads COL in goals (11) and points (22) this season.

• Tanguay has only scored 20 goals in a season once since 2007-08 (22 in 2010-11), and he was limited to just 16 games last season due to a variety of injuries.

• Tanguay was a 1st round pick by COL in 1998, and while he has played for 3 other teams (CGY, MTL, TB), he is in his 8th season overall with the Avs.

• Tanguay has 43 points (10G-33A) in 44 career games vs. STL.

• F Jarome Iginla, signed to a 3-yr/$16M contract this offseason from Boston, ranks T-2nd on the team in points (21).

• Not including the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the 37-year-old Iginla has totaled 30+ goals and 60+ points in each of the last 12 seasons.

• However, both his 7 goals and 21 points in 33 games are falling short of that pace so far this season.

• Iginla has 71 points (28G-43A) in 66 career games vs. STL (all but 1 point came w/ CGY).

• The Avs have had a top-3 overall pick 3 times in the past 6 seasons. Those 3 players – F Matt Duchene (3rd overall in 2009), captain F Gabriel Landeskog (2nd overall in 2011), and F Nathan MacKinnon (1st overall in 2013) are all tied with 20 points this season.

• Duchene has 10G-10A this season, but has been held without a point in 4 straight games.

• The last time he didn’t register a point in five straight games was a 7-game drought at the end of the 2011-12 season.

• MacKinnon, last season’s Calder Trophy winner (top rookie) with 63 points, has just 2 points in his last 9 games.

• D Tyson Barrie is T-2nd on the team in points (21), but has just 1 point in his last 7 games.

• D Erik Johnson has 8G-10A this season. He has goals in 2 straight games, and 4 goals in his last 4 games overall.

• Competition in the Avs net?

• Rookie G Calvin Pickard has started the past 6 games for Colorado, allowing just 10 goals in those games.

vIn that stretch, Pickard is 3-1-2 with a 1.61 GAA and .955 SV%.

• Pickard has allowed just 1 goal in each of his last 3 games.

• Pickard’s .939 SV% overall ranks 2nd in the NHL (Michael Hutchinson, WPG – .940 SV%).

• Pickard is seeing so much action because of G Semyon Varlamov’s groin injury, sustained Dec. 8 in practice.

• Varlamov has missed the last 6 games, but is expected to return and start tonight vs. STL.

• This season, the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy nominee has a 4-6-5 record with a 3.22 GAA and .909 SV%.

• Pickard (6 W in 13 GP) has played 2 fewer games than Varlamov (4 W in 15 GP) this season, but has 2 more wins.

Flames still face cap challenges after Lucic – Neal trade

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The Calgary Flames faced a cap crunch with James Neal on the books, and they still face potential issues with Milan Lucic being traded in at $500K cheaper.

[More on the contract situations here, and Lucic vs. Neal on ice in this post.]

That’s a lot of money under most circumstances, but $500K goes fast in the modern NHL. In fact, $500K wouldn’t cover the minimum salary of a single player. Every dollar could end up counting for the Flames, so it’s nothing to sneeze at, but things could be tight nonetheless. It may even force someone other than Neal out of the fold.

While the Flames currently boast an estimated $9.973 million in cap space, according to Cap Friendly, that money will dry up quickly. They still need to hammer out deals for RFAs Matthew Tkachuk, David Rittich, Sam Bennett, and Andrew Mangiapane.

Really, would it shock you if Tkachuk and Rittich came in at $10M combined? Such costs are real considerations for the Flames, assuming they can’t convince Tkachuk to take a Kevin Labanc-ian discount.

In Ryan Pike’s breakdown of the cap situation for Flames Nation, he found that Calgary may still have trouble fitting everyone under the cap by his estimations, even if the Flames bought out overpriced defenseman Michael Stone. Buying out Stone seems like a good starting point as we consider some of the calls Treliving might need to make before the Flames’ roster is solidified.

Buying out Stone in August: Stone, 29, has one year left on a deal that carries a $3.5M cap hit and matching salary. If the Flames bought him out, they’d save $2.33M in 2019-20, as Stone’s buyout would register a cap hit of about $1.167M in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

As frustrating as it would be for the Flames to combine dead money in a Stone buyout with Troy Brouwer‘s buyout (remaining $1.5M for the next three seasons), it might just be necessary. Really, it might be the easiest decision of all.

Granted, maybe someone like the Senators would take on Stone’s contract if the Flames bribed them with picks and/or prospects, much like the Hurricanes did in taking Patrick Marleau off of the Maple Leafs’ hands?

Either way, there’s a chance Stone won’t be making $3.5M with the Flames next season.

Trade Sam Bennett’s rights? With things getting really snug, and the forward unlikely to justify being the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, maybe the Flames would be better off moving on by sending Bennett/his RFA rights to another team and filling that roster spot with a cheaper option?

If a team coughed up a decent pick and/or prospect for Bennett, assuming he needs a change of scenery, it could be a win for everyone. The Flames might not be comfortable about that yet with Bennett being 23, but it should at least be discussed.

Trade an expiring contract player? T.J. Brodie ($4.65M), Michael Frolik ($4.3M), and Travis Hamonic ($3.857M) all seem to be signed at reasonable prices, if not mild bargains. All three are only covered through 2019-20, however, making it reasonable to picture them as parts of various trade scenarios. In fact, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the Flames were working on a potential deal involving Brodie and then-Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri, and Kadri admitted on “31 Thoughts” that he didn’t waive his clause to allow Calgary to trade for him.

***

Over the years, including this summer with LaBanc and Timo Meier signing sweet deals for the Sharks, sometimes RFAs take care off cap concerns for their teams. There are scenarios where such constraints actually help the given team land some discounts; it sure felt that way when the Bruins got a deal with Torey Krug back in 2016.

As of this writing, it seems like the Flames might face a tight squeeze in fitting under the cap.

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.

How Flames, Oilers might handle Lucic, Neal after big trade

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In the additional breakdown of the Milan LucicJames Neal trade, you might conclude that it’s basically a one-for-one deal, conditional draft pick aside. You can get an idea of how the two players are in remarkably similar places in their careers by reading the original breakdown.

Even their contracts look virtually the same … at least at first.

The players are close enough that it’s far from a guarantee that the Oilers will need to hand that third-rounder to their rivals in Calgary.

It’s only once you start digging deeper that you realize that, beyond James Neal being closer to his best days than Lucic, his contract is also a lot easier to deal with, for the most part. Once you start considering those factors, you might once again be surprised that the Oilers convinced the Flames to accept Lucic’s contract.

This was a case of two teams trading problems, and while both players have a decent chance to rebound to at least some extent, the true winner of this trade might be the team that can continue to clean up their messes.

To sort through the especially messy Lucic contract, you have to pull back your sleeves and get in the weeds. So, fair warning: this might make your brain melt a bit, but if you’re interested in what might happen next, these factors are important.

No movement, indeed

Lucic’s contract is an albatross deal for reasons that extend beyond Lucic not being worth $6M (and still not worth $5.25M) per year.

For one thing, while Lucic waived his no-movement clause to make this trade happen, it sounds like Lucic will retain his NMC … for some reason.

Frankly, if this is a matter of the Flames simply being nice, then they may rue such kindness in the future.

Most directly, if Lucic’s NMC is restored, then he might kabosh a trade down the line. Beyond that, there’s a scenario where the Flames might have to protect Lucic in an expansion draft, rather than someone more valuable. It’s possible that Lucic will return the Flames’ gesture by waiving his NMC in that situation (kind of like Marc-Andre Fleury doing the Penguins a solid in the Vegas expansion draft), yet the threat of complications can make you queasy.

Even if it works out, it all seems pretty messy to me. The other potential escape routes are messy for Calgary, too.

Easier to sell the deal than to buy it out

It’s been mentioned that the bonus-heavy structure of Lucic’s contract makes his deal almost “buyout proof.”

That’s pretty much true, as buying out Lucic would bring out marginal savings for the Flames, even if you move the buyout to a later year than the most immediate chance after next season.

Realistically, the most reasonable way Calgary might wiggle out of some of the tougher years of Lucic’s contract would be to find a team like the Senators: a franchise in place where they value contracts that don’t cost as much as their cap hits indicate. For example: the Flames could pay Lucic’s $3M bonus before 2020-21, then trade him to Ottawa, who would be credited with his $5.25M cap hit, even though they’d only be on the hook for the remaining $1M in base salary. That scenario would be even more appealing to a cost-conscious team in the last year of Lucic’s contract, so check Cap Friendly if you’re curious about other possibilities.

Unfortunately for Calgary, even if they found a buyer, they’d seemingly need to get Lucic to play ball. The veteran winger might not be so thrilled to go to a rebuilding team.

Ultimately, the Flames are taking a significant gamble that this Lucic situation will work out better than sticking with Neal. If not, people will point to Treliving taking on Lucic much like, well, Peter Chiarelli also gambling on the big winger.

*gulp*

Neal’s cleaner situation

Puck Pedia notes some potential twists and turns, but overall, the Oilers didn’t just get a player in closer proximity to his best times of production; Neal’s contract is, mostly, a lot easier to deal with. Even if it’s bad, too.

As you can see from Cap Friendly’s buyout calculator, a cap-strapped Oilers team could benefit from a buyout, including one as early as 2020:

Saving close to $4M for three seasons, even if it means tacking on almost $2M for the following two seasons, could easily make a lot of sense for the Oilers, if they determine that a Neal buyout is the right move.

In general, they have more control of the situation, as Neal’s contract lacks a no-movement or no-trade clause. That’s kind of tragic in a way, as Neal’s already bounced around the league like a pinball, but it’s nonetheless the case.

Granted, the one area where Lucic might be a more plausible trade clip is because there’s not really any smoke and mirrors with Neal’s contract. While Lucic’s bonus-soaked contract makes him difficult to buyout, his falling salary vs. cap hit appeals to certain rebuild scenarios. Neal, meanwhile, simply costs $5.75M each season.

Still, that lack of a no-movement clause reduces Edmonton’s odds of worst-case scenarios. For instance: the Oilers wouldn’t need to protect Neal in an expansion draft, which could open up moments of tragic comedy where Neal finds himself with a new team and an expansion franchise again.

Overall, a buyout seems most feasible, although there’s the outside chance that Neal rebounds to become a deadly sniper again alongside Connor McDavid and/or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

***

Every trade carries the tagline of “to be continued,” but this swap seems especially friendly to that caveat. Is the plan for the Flames, Oilers, or both of these teams to ultimately get rid of Neal and/or Lucic all along? If so, at what cost?

Maybe the play of Neal and Lucic will decide the “winner” of this trade, but most likely, it comes down to which team does the best job cleaning up the messes they’ve made.

Check out the original post for more on this trade, including a look at where Neal and Lucic are in their careers.

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.

Trade: Flames get Lucic; Oilers receive Neal

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Call it a “change of scenery,” or probably most directly, trading problems. Either way, Alberta rivals the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers made a truly resounding trade on Friday, with the main takeaway being that Milan Lucic goes to the Flames, while James Neal is bound for Edmonton.

Yeah, wow.

Multiple reporters indicate that it’s close to one-for-one, although there are a few minor tweaks to consider.

The Calgary Herald’s Kristen Anderson reports that the Oilers are retaining 12.5 percent of Milan Lucic’s salary, which translates to $750K, while Edmonton is also sending Calgary a conditional third-round pick in 2020. It’s not clear yet what those conditions are.

If Anderson and others are correct, that means the trade boils down to:

Flames receive: Lucic, 31, minus $750K per year. That puts Lucic at $5.25M, with his contract running through 2022-23. Calgary also receives Edmonton’s 2020 third-round pick, if conditions are met.

Oilers receive: Neal, 31, who has a $5.75M cap hit that runs through 2022-23.

As you can see, the two players remain very similar in both cap hit, term, and even age. The Flames save $500K in cap space, while the Oilers add $500K, as Puck Pedia confirms.

Of course, when you’re talking about contracts teams largely want to get away from, it’s often about more than just cap hits. There are some significant ins and outs to that side of the discussion, including Lucic’s deal being essentially “buyout proof.” Neal, meanwhile, would be easier for the Oilers to buy out, if they decide to do that after an audition with the team.

On Saturday, PHT will try to wade through the variety of paths the two teams could take, whether it means sticking with Lucic and Neal respectively, or going for a buyout or trade. For now, let’s consider where they are in their careers.

Lucic’s tough times

After a productive first season in Edmonton where Lucic scored 23 goals and 50 points in 2016-17, Lucic plummeted down the depth chart and in production. This past season was rock bottom, as Lucic scored just six goals and 20 points in 79 games.

The bet on Lucic, some might say in part leading to the dreadful Taylor Hall trade, stands as one of the landmark gaffes of Peter Chiarelli’s Era of Error in Edmonton. It was clear that both the player and team needed to part ways, so now there’s at least peace in that regard.

A bumpy path for Neal, and brutal times in Calgary

Whether you like Neal – a player who absolutely goes over the line at times, when he loses his cool – or not, it’s tough not to feel for him after the last several years.

He was traded from the Stars to the Penguins in 2011, scapegoated a bit out of Pittsburgh on his way to Nashville in 2014, then scooped up by Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft, only to sign with the Flames (possibly in a relatively lukewarm free agent market) last summer. Now this trade sends Neal to Edmonton, making this the 31-year-old’s sixth NHL team, and his fourth in his past four seasons. Players as productive as Neal – aside from last season’s meltdown – rarely become journeymen like this.

Honestly, should we just get his nameplate ready for the Seattle [Unfortunately Not Supersonics] right now?

Despite that upheaval, Neal had been a guy who could score goals nonetheless. He peaked with 40 during his best days with Malkin in Pittsburgh (an 81-point output in 2011-12), but he sniped in multiple climates, generating 20+ goals in 10 consecutive seasons.

And then this Calgary season happened.

Neal never clicked with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, as Elias Lindholm instead took that plum gig. Neal slipped lower and lower in the lineup, sometimes becoming a healthy scratch, and ended 2018-19 with Lucic-like numbers (though in fewer games), as Neal managed only seven goals and 19 points. He was also an all-around disaster, as you can see from RAPM charts via Evolving Hockey that argue that, in some ways, Lucic was actually better last season, as Lucic at least wasn’t as much of a defensive disaster as Neal. Faint praise, but still:

Better times ahead, maybe?

Again, it’s easy to forget that both wingers are 31.

That’s not a great age to be when your contract looks inflated, but there’s also a chance that maybe both could turn things around, at least to some degree. With Neal closer to more productive seasons than Lucic, he’d seem to be a more likely candidate, especially if his rifle of a shot pairs nicely with Connor McDavid‘s all-world playmaking.

But both players have a shot at positive regression. Neal’s five percent shooting percentage from 2018-19 marked the only time in his career that he’s been below 10.4 percent, while Lucic shot at 6.8 in 2017-18 and 8.1 in 2018-19, compared to his career average of 13.5 percent.

Modest rebounds wouldn’t guarantee that either Neal or Lucic sticks around in their new climates. Improvements might just make each forward easier to trade, and more palatable to keep around while looking for trades. There’s simply a lot of room for “to be continued” elements to this move, from buyouts to trades and more.

***

As discussed above, there could still be twists and turns in these sagas, and some of those possibilities will be examined on Saturday. Yet, at this moment in time, this seems like the rare trade win for the Oilers. Maybe this is the start of a positive pattern now that Ken Holland is GM?

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.

Trouba gets seven-year, $56 million deal from Rangers

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The New York Rangers have locked up Jacob Trouba with a seven-year, $56 million contract.

Trouba saw his restricted free agent rights acquired by the Rangers last month from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for defenseman Neal Pionk and 2019 first-round pick (Ville Heinola). General manager Jeff Gorton added up front by bringing Artemi Panarin to Broadway on July 1, so you knew that they were going to eventually come to an agreement to keep the 25-year-old defenseman in the fold following the June trade as they bulk up for a run in 2019-20.

“They’re building a winner tends to be the vibe I’ve gotten,” said Trouba following the trade to New York. “They treat the players first class. It’s very first-class organization. I mean, it’s New York so you’ve got a big stage and they expect a lot out of their team. We want to ultimately get to the Stanley Cup.”

 

Earlier this month Trouba had elected salary arbitration and had a July 25 date scheduled. But that was merely a formality to allow extra time for both sides to hammer out a deal.

According to PuckPedia, $22 million will be paid to Trouba over the next three seasons via signing bonuses and he has a no-move clause from 2020-21 to 2023-24 and a limited no-trade clause in the final two years of the deal.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The ninth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Trouba has spent the last six seasons with the Jets, playing 408 games and recording 42 goals and 179 points. In 2018-19 he set a career high with 50 points, making him the ninth defenseman 25 or younger to hit that mark in the past three seasons.

Gorton still has work to do this summer in deciding whether to re-sign RFAs Pavel Buchnevich (July 29 arbitration hearing), Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo, while working around the salary cap, which after this signing puts them over the ceiling. This could end up leading to a trade of Chris Kreider, who’s entering the final year of this deal carrying a $4.625 million cap hit but owed $4 million in salary for the coming season. They also have a 48-hour buyout window later this summer as well even if they settle with Buchnevich before his hearing.

MORE: Jets were never going to get enough for Trouba

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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.