Let’s daydream about Doughty, Karlsson as free agents

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As much as people (*raises hand*) complain about the NHL lagging behind the NBA when it comes to blockbuster trades, it also seems like the league could use a real boost when it comes to free agency.

Blame it on the dangers of the game inspiring players to value long-term security over getting every last buck, team-friendly RFA quirks, or any number of factors, but this league rarely sees true star players hit the open market. Seriously, think about it; when’s the last time a true gamebreaker actually shopped his services? Would you count Brad Richards? Was it really as long ago as that Ilya Kovalchuk oddness?

(Sorry, Kevin Shattenkirk, I like you more than most, but you don’t count.)

With that in mind, it’s dangerous to look two years ahead and drool over the pool of potential, splashy UFA defensemen (see this Cap Friendly list as an example). That said, it’s also fun: imagine your team landing Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Ryan McDonagh, or even Ryan Ellis/Anton Stralman/Niklas Hjalmarsson.

It’s such a fun thought that even Doughty is getting in on the speculation, as he discussed in this fascinating interview with Craig Custance of The Athletic (sub required):

“I know I’m going to talk to Karlsson back and forth, kind of see what money he’s looking for. I’ll kind of look at what money I’m looking for,” Doughty said. “I don’t know if he’s going to re-sign with Ottawa, I don’t know if I’ll re-sign with L.A. You just never know what’s going to happen.”

In case you’re wondering, yes, Doughty teased the idea of playing for the Maple Leafs once again. Is cheeky the right word, or is he merely candid?

Note: Doughty also said the right thing in claiming Los Angeles was his first choice, though.

Maybe the most delightful line came when Doughty said that he – along with Karlsson – might use P.K. Subban‘s contract as something of a measuring stick. Note that the Canadiens signed Subban for eight years at a $9 million cap hit, a deal that’s now owned by the Predators.

Really, you can’t blame Karlsson and Doughty for wanting that sort of cap hit, especially when you consider how sorely they’re being paid under their true market value.

Doughty signed his current deal in 2011, and for all the sass the Kings take for bad contracts, he’s been carrying just a $7M cap hit. Karlsson’s incredible bargain is actually at $6.5M, signed back in 2012. For a penny-pinching team like the Senators, those savings have been absolutely essential. Those deals also rank among the most enviable steals in all the league (especially once you throw out cheats like rookie contracts with artificial ceilings).

The fascinating thing about both Karlsson and Doughty is that, theoretically, it’s plausible that both might actually test the market. Many of these thoughts could also apply to OEL; for all we know, he may be closer to their levels by the end of 2018-19.

Not just about what Doughty wants with L.A.

As a fan of good hockey, it’s been delightful to see the Kings rebound, mostly because they’ve done so by modernizing the way they play. You have to think that Doughty’s having more fun, himself.

The Kings are in a better position to compete now, and it’s conceivable that their window might extend through 2018-19.

It’s not as easy to say what lies ahead in 2019-20 and beyond. Consider that Doughty turns 28 on Dec. 8; if he wants a long-term contract, it might be a bad situation for an L.A. franchise that might want to pivot toward a rebuild after taking another swing or two at a Stanley Cup.

Really, GM Rob Blake merely needs to look to San Jose if he wants a cautionary tale and doesn’t want to think about the mess he inherited. We all love Brent Burns, but his age and contract look as scraggly as his beard right now.

So, as painful as it might be, Doughty leaving town might actually be what’s best for both the player and the team. And it certainly would be fun for dorks like us, who love the drama of a free agent frenzy.

Note to Drew: even if the Maple Leafs are a slam-dunk, please play things up by at least pretending to field multiple offers. Hey, you’d get some steak/sushi dinners out of the deal and entertain us in the process. Pretty much everyone wins.

The cost of Karlsson

There are parallels with Karlsson’s situation, too, including him turning 28 soon (in his case, May).

Ottawa is incredibly dependent upon the otherworldly Swede, probably more than even Doughty, who’s immensely important to the Kings as well. That said, the Senators are a budget team right now, with open questions about ownership.

As much as GM Pierre Dorion wanted Matt Duchene for his speed and higher-end skill compared to Kyle Turris, there was also cost certainty to consider. Ottawa may decide that they’re simply not in a position to contend in the twilight of Karlsson’s prime, particularly if he’s getting paid *close* to what he’s actually worth.

For those who sometimes cringe at the Senators’ frequently bland style of play under Guy Boucher, it’s tantalizing to picture Karlsson serving as the catalyst to a high-powered, all-out-attacking offense.

***

It’s perfectly plausible that these defensemen will stick with their teams. Especially with Ottawa, Karlsson is the type of guy who’s so good he can help management avoid being, you know, fired. That has to weigh heavily on such thought processes.

There’s also the likely scenario where the Kings and/or Sens would realize they needed to part ways with their stud defensemen, leading to a sign-and-trade situation that saps some of the drama.

Still, hockey fans can dream, and compared to thoughts of Steven Stamkos dancing like sugar plums in your head, these visions might actually end up with real moves.

Hey, we can dream.

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.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.