Getty

Horvat, Pastrnak highlight list of remaining restricted free agents

3 Comments

The dog days of August are over. The hockey world is ramping up for NHL training camp.

Seems like a perfect time to take a look at the key remaining restricted free agents, per CapFriendly, still looking to sign contracts for the upcoming season.

Josh Anderson, Blue Jackets:

Josh Anderson remains the lone restricted free agent for the Blue Jackets to sign, after they were able to get Alexander Wennberg under contract on Friday. Anderson, 23, finished his first full NHL season — the final year of his entry-level deal — with 17 goals and 29 points. After the Wennberg deal, the Blue Jackets have $7.987 million in cap space. According to the Columbus Dispatch, there had been a report stating Anderson would skate with a team in Switzerland if a deal with Columbus was not reached before training camp.

More from the Dispatch:

His agent, Darren Ferris, said in a text message that he had been misquoted and that Anderson is not set to practice in the Swiss National League.

“That is not the plan at this time,” Ferris said. “It is just an option.”

Earlier Friday, Kekalainen said he wasn’t worried about Anderson’s situation.

“He can skate wherever he wants,” Kekalainen said. “We just want him here when training camp starts, that’s all.”

Andreas Athanasiou, Red Wings:

Andreas Athanasiou is one of the promising young players for a Red Wings team that finished out of the playoffs last season. He scored 18 goals and 29 points in the final year of his entry-level contract. While Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has said the organization has made numerous offers to the 23-year-old forward, Athanasiou is, according to his agent, considering offers from the KHL. There were indications a couple of weeks ago that signing in Russia was a possibility.

“Andreas is evaluating the pros and cons of all the offers,” his agent Darren Ferris recently told MLive.com. “Andreas loves Detroit and especially the Detroit fans but he has to really consider the serious offers from the KHL he has before him. There is a considerable difference in the amount of money.”

Sam Bennett, Flames:

Sam Bennett garnered headlines during the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, as he entered the league at just 18 years of age. After a 36-point 2015-16 campaign, his first full season in the NHL, Bennett’s production dipped this past season with only 13 goals and 26 points. The Flames have about $7.165 million in cap space, so they certainly have room to get something done, with Eric Francis of Postmedia pointing out that the salary range for comparable contracts for Bennett should be about $2.5 to $3 million per year. With camp approaching, general manager Brad Treliving remained confident a deal would get done.

Marcus Foligno, Wild:

The Wild acquired Marcus Foligno, as well as Tyler Ennis, from the Buffalo Sabres at the end of June. However, they still haven’t signed the 26-year-old Foligno, who scored a career high 13 goals for Buffalo last season. Minnesota has only $2.14 million in available cap space. While he waits for his new contract, the physical forward has made his plans known for this upcoming season, aiming to score 20 goals in his first year with the Wild.

Bo Horvat, Canucks:

Bo Horvat led the Canucks in points last season — the final year of his entry-level contract. He’s due for a sizable raise, and the Canucks, after a busy summer for them, have about $5.3 million in cap space with Horvat still to sign. The biggest question now is whether a new contract will be long-term, or a bridge deal? Jason Botchford of The Province told TSN Radio that he heard Horvat’s new contract is a bridge deal. Team president Trevor Linden, a few hours later, told Ed Willes of The Province that there was “nothing at all” to that.

Petteri Lindbohm, Blues:

The Blues currently have one remaining restricted free agent to get signed for the upcoming season. That would be defenseman Petteri Lindbohm, who has split each of the last three seasons between the Blues and their former AHL affiliate in Chicago. Cracking the lineup full-time next season may be a tall order, given the club’s top-four defensemen are basically set, with plenty of competition for bottom-six and depth roles. Lindbohm’s three-year entry-level deal had an annual average value of $700,000.

David Pastrnak, Bruins:

Negotiations between the Bruins and Pastrnak’s camp were expected to continue Friday, according to the Boston Herald, with Pastrnak’s agent, J.P. Barry, ready to make his client’s case for an eight-year deal. That left Bruins president Cam Neely to discuss the possible impact Leon Draisaitl‘s recently signed eight-year contract in Edmonton may have on these specific negotiations with Pastrnak. Having turned 21 years old in May, Pastrnak enjoyed an impressive offensive surge last season with 34 goals and 70 points.

Robbie Russo, Red Wings:

Robbie Russo, originally a New York Islanders draft pick, has spent the majority of his time in the Red Wings organization with its AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. He’s been productive there, scoring seven goals and 32 points last season on a team that won the Calder Cup. He did break into the Red Wings lineup last season, appearing in 19 games without registering a point. The Red Wings have a pair of RFAs — Russo and Athanasiou — to get signed, but they have salary cap issues. Specifically, they are about $3.02 million over the cap.

Damon Severson, Devils:

Playing in his third NHL season, 23-year-old defenseman Damon Severson reached career highs in games played (80), assists (28), and points (31), emerging as a key piece on their blue line. While the contract situation has dragged into September, NJ Advance Media’s Chris Ryan recently told fans that he doesn’t anticipate it will continue into camp.

“The Devils and Severson have plenty of options for a contract, and they simply haven’t come to an agreement at this point,” Ryan wrote. “Worst case, the Devils and Severson will sign a one-year deal and do this all again next offseason, when Severson would be arbitration eligible. But expect for this to be resolved before camp opens.”

Tyler Wotherspoon, Flames:

Tyler Wotherspoon has been with the Flames organization since the 2011 NHL Draft, but has yet to emerge as a full-time player on their roster. Since turning professional, he has split each of the last four seasons between the NHL club and its minor league affiliate. He is one of two remaining RFAs for the Flames, after the club inked Brett Kulak. Calgary is already set with its top-four defensemen, while Michael Stone should fit in as the No. 5 blue liner. Matt Bartkowski is also on the roster, while Kulak played 21 games for the Flames last season to Wotherspoon’s four. Right now, it would seem the highest priority for Calgary is to get Sam Bennett signed.

Nikita Zadorov, Avalanche:

A recent report from Adrian Dater of BSN Denver stated that Nikita Zadorov and the Avalanche are about $500,000 apart, with the 22-year-old defenseman seeking about $2.5 million annually. Earlier this summer, it was reported that Zadorov had a “mutual agreement” with a club in the KHL but was waiting to receive a better offer from Colorado, which has only three defensemen under contract for the upcoming season.

*All financial figures courtesy CapFriendly.

Goaltending remains biggest question for much-improved Blues

Getty
4 Comments

Sometimes it feels like the St. Louis Blues have faced questions in net for about as long as water’s been wet.

In signing Jake Allen to a four-year, $17.4 million contract a little more than two years ago, the Blues hoped that they might finally have a true No. 1 goalie after bouncing around from Jaroslav Halak to Ryan Miller to Brian Elliott. They even gave Martin Brodeur a brief shot during the twilight games of his career.

(No, you weren’t hallucinating. Brodeur really did play for the Blues.)

Instead, Allen’s been a liability, to the point that he briefly more-or-less lost the 2017-18 starting job to Carter Hutton.

Interestingly, both of the Blues goalies cross their fingers for a rebound next season. The transition from Hutton to Chad Johnson is disastrous on paper if you only judge the netminders by their 2017-18 numbers, yet the bigger picture argues that Johnson can be one of the more reliable backups. Despite a horrendous .891 save percentage from last season, Johnson still has a career average save percentage of .910.

You can’t ask for much better than that from your No. 2, but the Blues still missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs even after Hutton played like a great starter for chunks of the past season. Simply put, the Blues need more from Allen.

Let’s consider some of the factors that might impact Allen.

  • To some extent, the 27-year-old (who turns 28 on Aug. 7) is who he is. Allen already has 219 regular-season and 22 playoff games under his belt. His career .913 save percentage is pretty mediocre, thus there’s a fear that the Blues will need to overcome Allen on more than a few occasions.
  • That said, he did generate a .920 save percentage over 47 games in 2015-16, and strong work during the 2016-17 postseason argues that Allen has a higher ceiling than many might assume.
  • No doubt, Allen’s 2017-18 was abysmal, as he went 27-25-3 with a backup-caliber .906 save percentage.

It’s frequently wise to dig a little deeper to try to figure out why a goalie might struggle. In Allen’s case last season, it came down to special teams situations. While he boasted a virtually identical even-strength save percentage in 2017-18 (.919) compared to 2016-17 (.918), his shorthanded save percentage plummeted from a career-high .901 to a career-low .834.

There’s a real worry with some goalies who simply can’t cut it in PK situations, whether that comes down to questionable lateral movement, struggles to see around screens, or any number of explanations. Even after considering those long-term concerns, it’s comforting to realize that last season might just be an aberration.

  • The Blues aren’t that far behind powers like the Maple Leafs when it comes to improving during the off-season. One of the delights of their bold moves to try to contend is that they landed a near-Selke-level two-way player in Ryan O'Reilly.
  • Some good and bad news is that the Blues generally carried on the tradition of playing strong defense and hogging the puck last season. At even-strength, they allowed the fifth-fewest “high-danger” chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The bright side is that the structure could very well give Allen a chance to enjoy a rejuvenation. The less optimistic take is that Allen has struggled at times even with a sturdy team in front of him.

  • Such digging doesn’t immediately dismiss Allen’s shorthanded struggles. Apparently the Blues allowed the fifth-fewest high-danger chances on the penalty kill, also according to Natural Stat Trick. It’s up to Allen more than anyone else to turn around those bad PK numbers, or at least it appears that way on paper.

***

Blues GM Doug Armstrong made quite a few moves that lead you to believe that St. Louis is swinging for the fences heading into 2018-19. If a letdown costs him his job, at least he’d be going out with a bang by making some attractive tweaks.

As wise as Armstrong often appears, so far, the organization making Allen “the guy” in net has really backfired.

Ultimately, his job and the Blues’ fate probably lands on Allen’s shoulders. Improvement seems plausible, yet we’ll need to wait and see if he’ll improve enough to allow the Blues to take advantage of all the weapons they added this summer.

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.

Immediate jump unlikely to be best for Kotkaniemi, Habs

Getty
3 Comments

The Montreal Canadiens shouldn’t ask “can Jesperi Kotkaniemi jump straight from the 2018 NHL Draft to the main roster?” Instead, they’re better off wondering if he should.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said that the 18-year-old will get a chance to impress in training camp after performing well at development camp, according to NHL.com’s Sean Farrell.

“He got better every day, so we’re going in with an open mind,” Bergevin said. “I don’t know, but just the fact that he’s signed and he’s coming to camp and he’s closer to the NHL. Where he’s going to be Oct. 1, I can’t tell you, but we see a lot of potential and growth in this young man.”

That’s fair, and the Canadiens would be justified in giving the third pick of the 2018 NHL Draft the nine-game audition before sending him to Finland or the AHL instead of burning the first year of Kotkaniemi’s entry-level contract.

Cautionary tale

But, big picture, this is probably one of those situations where both sides would be better off if Kotkaniemi dips his toes in the water rather than diving right in. If Montreal needs a quick example of a player whose rookie deal hasn’t been used in an optimal way, they might want to consider Jesse Puljujärvi, who went fourth overall in 2016.

Puljujärvi only played in 28 games in 2016-17, making a minimal impact while pushing himself that much closer to ending his rookie deal. Things didn’t get that much better last season, as he only generated 20 points in 65 games. A breakthrough is quite possible in 2018-19, but the downside would be that the Oilers would then need to give him a raise, and would only really enjoy one high-value season from his entry-level contracts.

That’s the sort of poor asset management Montreal should be concerned about, especially if they’re being realistic about their chances next season.

Tension in the air

Now, it’s plausible – maybe probable – that things could go a little better in 2018-19. For the most obvious example, the Habs could conceivably be viable if Carey Price returns to elite form (and good health).

In all honesty, the Lightning and Maple Leafs seem slated to be light years ahead of Montreal. The Panthers and especially the Bruins head into the season with higher hopes, too. The Habs run the risk of falling short of the postseason even if they improve considerably, so why not just push Kotkaniemi’s contract back a year instead of possibly wasting it?

The Finnish forward only turned 18 on July 6, so you’d expect him to be a bit less polished compared to an older prospect like, say, Brady Tkachuk. The worst-case scenario might be if Kotkaniemi plays well enough to hit double digits in games played, yet generally struggles and ends up stunting his growth while wasting a year of that ELC.

It might not be the healthiest environment for Kotkaniemi to debut, either.

Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien must be at least a touch concerned about job security, and the atmosphere has a chance to be pretty toxic. Critics blast Julien for how he handles young players at the best of times, but how ugly might the scene be if fans are calling for Bergevin and Julien to be replaced?

Montreal seems pretty locked-in to its forward group this season, too, and that’s possibly accurate even if they actually pull the trigger on a Max Pacioretty trade. The return could be pretty modest if Kotkaniemi’s is merely a minor upgrade over a replacement-level player.

***

The Habs already made a divisive choice in selecting Kotkaniemi after lucking into the third pick in 2018. Many believe that Montreal aimed at need first and foremost, with the expectation being that Kotkaniemi will develop into the first-line center, a piece that’s eluded Montreal for ages. The pressure’s eventually going to be pretty fierce for the prospect to deliver, so the Canadiens would be wise to wait until he’s truly ready.

And, again, the decision need not be based on altruism alone. Instead, by doing what’s most likely best for Kotkaniemi, the Canadiens stand a better chance to take advantage of his cheap contract when they’d ideally be better prepared to contend.

There are worse problems to have, yet Montreal really needs to start getting these decisions right if they want to turn things around.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Jagr still holds NHL hope?; Islanders turning the page

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.

• Jaromir Jagr hasn’t given up on the NHL, but he’s in no rush to return either. (Sportsnet)

• The New York Islanders are looking to turn the page after the departure of captain John Tavares. (NHL.com)

Artemi Panarin has given the Columbus Blue Jackets a contract deadline. (The Athletic)

• Would Tyler Seguin want to play with the Montreal Canadiens? (Montreal Gazette)

• Ranking each NHL team based on their locked-in, young core. (ESPN)

• With the thrill of the 2018 NHL Draft already worn off, we might as well take a look ahead to the 2019 rendition and all that it has to offer. (Last Word on Hockey)

• From wives’ room fights to brotherly competition, St. Louis molded Brady Tkachuk. (The Sporting News)

• Do the Vancouver Canucks have an asset on defense that they can work into a trade that would benefit the club? (The Province)

• If you don’t want to read and would rather take two minutes to watch a video, here’s some possible reasons why a trade for Erik Karlsson hasn’t happened yet, here’s your chance. (Sportsnet)

• Where does the line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson — the JoFA line — fit in the pantheon of the league’s top lines? (Pred Lines)

• You want offseason grades for all 31 NHL teams? Here you go. (The Athletic)

• And here’s a list of the best player to ever wear each number in the NHL. (Puck Prose)

• The Class of Canada: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets. (The Hockey Writers)

• Help is on the way for the Chicago Blackhawks aging defense. (Chicago Mag)

Mike Hoffman‘s fiancée files for disclosure of information in harassment allegations. (Ottawa Citizen)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Vegas Golden Knights, U.S. Army agree to end trademark dispute

Getty Images
17 Comments

The Vegas Golden Knights and the U.S. Army have called an end to their trademark battle regarding the usage of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name.

Owner Bill Foley announced on Thursday that the two sides have entered into a trademark coexistence agreement where the U.S. Army will continue using the ‘Golden Knights’ marks and names with its parachute exhibition team. The Golden Knights will continue to use ‘Vegas Golden Knights’ and ‘Golden Knights’ in regards to the hockey team.

“We are pleased that we have agreed to coexist regarding the use of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name,” said Foley in a statement. “Our discussions with the Army were collaborative and productive throughout this entire process. We are appreciative of their efforts and commitment to reaching an amicable resolution.”

The U.S. Army filed a notice of opposition in January against against Black Knight Sports and Entertainment over the use of the name ‘Golden Knights.’ Foley is a graduate of West Point and originally wanted to name the team the Black Knights (after the Army sports teams) but decided against it.

————

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.