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Corey Crawford has become Chicago’s most important player

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The big news out of the Chicago Blackhawks this past week was the announcement that starting goaltender Corey Crawford has been placed on injured reserve, and that there is currently no timeline for his return to the lineup.

If he has to miss an extended period of time it could be a damaging blow to a team at a position where it really can not afford one. If there is one player this Blackhawks team can least afford to lose, Crawford is probably the one.

Prior to his injury Crawford had been having an outstanding season for the Blackhawks and owned a .930 save percentage that is fifth best in the league. That performance has been huge for a Blackhawks team that has its share of flaws, especially when it comes to its defense.

The Blackhawks are allowing 34 shots on goal per game this season, the third highest total in the league and it continues a trend from recent seasons that has seen the team go from being one of the absolute best shot suppression teams in the league to one of the absolute worst. Typically, that has not been a great recipe for success in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins showed last season that it is possible to win giving up that sort of shot volume, but onlly if a team has scoring depth and great goaltending to cover it up.

With Crawford in net the Blackhawks have been getting great goaltending. That has allowed them to stay in the top-five in goals against despite bleeding shots and shot attempts against.

So just how much has Crawford been saving the Blackhawks this season?

The difference between a .914 save percentage (which would still be above the league average this season) and the .930 mark on the same number of shots that Crawford has faced so far this season would have been an additional 10 goals against at this point. That may not seem like a lot right now, but that is only through 20 games. Those goals against quickly add up, and given a normal workload (think 60 games) that could be an additional 30 goals against over the course of a season.

That is a lot, and it could swing a season for a team that is currently sitting on the playoff bubble in the Western Conference.

What really hurts the Blackhawks this season is they don’t really have a proven backup that can step up in Crawford’s absence. At least not one that we know of yet. In recent years Scott Darling had proven to be one of the top backup goaltenders in the NHL and was more than capable of filling in for Crawford when he was injured or just simply needed a break or hit a slump. But Darling was traded over the summer to the Carolina Hurricanes to become their starter, turning the backup job over to Anton Forsberg.

In just six appearances this season Forsberg has already allowed 18 goals on just 187 shots and has managed only an .889 save percentage in his career.

The Blackhawks have won just one of his five starts so far this season.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks they don’t expect Crawford’s injury to be anything long-term.

They better hope that turns out to be the case.

When the Blackhawks were at the height of their power between 2010 and 2013 the rest of the team was so stacked that they didn’t really need elite goaltending to win.

Antti Niemi was solid in 2010, but not irreplaceable. That was proven the following offseason when they walked away from his arbitration ruling and allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent (they decided re-signing Niklas Hjalmarsson was far more vital to their success).

The same was mostly true for Crawford during their 2013 championship run. They had four dominant scoring lines and a defense that had four horses all in the prime of their careers that could shut down any offense. But the salary cap has ripped apart a lot of that forward depth while the defense is not what it used to be.

Players like Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell are gone, Brent Seabrook is a shell of his former self, and the rest of the unit outside of Duncan Keith is mostly a patchwork group of young players still finding their way and veterans signed on the cheap.

They still have forwards up front that can score, but their ability to prevent goals has shifted from having dominant defense to a huge reliance on their goaltender.

For years Crawford was the forgotten player among Chicago’s core, constantly getting overlooked behind Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Keith and Seabrook.

Now he might be the most important part of it.

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.

Cap shedding begins as Golden Knights send Haula to Hurricanes

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Looking at the Vegas Golden Knights’ salary cap situation after William Karlsson’s $47.2M extension, it was clear current general manager George McPhee and soon-to-be general manager Kelly McCrimmon (Sept. 1) were going to have to make some cuts to the roster.

Late Wednesday night the Golden Knights began trimming down by sending Erik Haula and his $2.75M cap hit to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for 22-year-old prospect Nicolas Roy and a conditional 2021 fifth-round pick.

The 28-year-old Haula has not played since Nov. 6 after he suffered a knee injury and missed the final 67 games of the 2018-19 NHL season and required surgery. It was a disappointing end after coming off a 29-goal, 55-point campaign during Vegas’ inaugural season.

“Erik is a skilled, experienced player who has been productive at even strength and on special teams,” said Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell. “We expect him to be healthy and ready to go for training camp.”

Given the Golden Knights’ cap picture at the moment and the fact that Haula’s contract expires after the 2019-20 season, he became an option to move.

“We are going to have to make a few moves,” said McPhee after the Karlsson extension. “We’ve planned for that; we are going through that exercise right now.”

The NHL and NHLPA agreed to a salary cap ceiling last week of $81.5M for this coming season. The Golden Knights were close to $90M before the trade, so the work isn’t done yet. Extensions still need to be hammered out for Tomas Nosek and Nikita Gusev, so there is still a move or two left to make in order to get under the cap ceiling. It could include moving David Clarkson if a taker can be found for his $5.25M cap hit, otherwise it’ll likely be long-term injury reserve once again.

Waddell knew the Golden Knights were desperate to shed and pounced. The only question now is what level Haula will be at when he returns to the ice and how long will it take for him to get back to 100%, if at all? With one year left on his deal, it’s a good gamble.

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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.

PHT Time Machine: When RFA offer sheets actually happened

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Throughout the offseason we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at the history of restricted free agent offer sheets and some of the wild signings and situations that have unfolded because of them.

There is probably no greater time-waster in the NHL offseason than discussing the possibility of a restricted free agent offer sheet. Every year we look at the names that are out there, and every year we discuss the possibility of a young player signing a massive contract and wondering whether it will be matched, and every year nothing ever comes of it.

There are a number of theories as to why it never happens, ranging from the more nefarious ones like GM’s wanting to keep the cost of young players down or having some sort of “unwritten agreement” among them to not poach other team’s players, to a far more reasonable one: It’s really difficult to find a perfect match where such a signing can actually happen.

Not only does a team need to have the salary cap space and the appropriate draft pick assets, but the player in question has to actually WANT to sign with the team offering the contract, and the team owning that player’s rights has to be unwilling (or unable) to match it.

That is tough to find.

We do not know how many offers actually get made, but we do know in the history of restricted free agency there have only been 35 offer sheets actually signed, and only eight in the salary cap era.

Only 13 of those offer sheets were not matched and saw a player actually change teams.

We have not seen an offer sheet signed since the Calgary Flames tried to get Ryan O'Reilly away from the Colorado Avalanche during the 2012-13 season (it was ultimately matched by the Avalanche).

This offseason, of course, is no different when it comes to the speculation, and the player that is getting the most attention is Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner due to the team’s salary cap crunch and Marner’s reported contract demands.

Will it actually happen? History says no, but a lot of the circumstances are in place for it to at least be on the table. Speaking of history, let’s take a look back at some of the more noteworthy offer sheets in NHL history.

Hurricanes sign Sergei Fedorov

This might be the wildest offer sheet situation the league has ever seen.

During the 1997-98 season the Carolina Hurricanes were in their first year of existence after relocating from Hartford. They were losing money after the move, they were in last place in their division, and the organization had missed the playoffs in each of its final five seasons as the Whalers.

Fedorov, still fairly close to the height of his powers as an NHL superstar, was involved in an ugly contract dispute with the Detroit Red Wings and by mid-February had still not signed a contract. During the Olympic break that season (the first year NHL players participated in the Olympics) the Hurricanes, led by now Hall of Fame general manager Jim Rutherford, decided to pounce and signed Fedorov to a massive six year, $38 million contract that included a $14 million signing bonus for him to play in the final 25 games of the season, and more than $12 million in bonuses over the next four years.

It would have made him one of the highest paid players in the league.

An excerpt from a Feb. 21, 1998 Associated Press story on the signing.

Rutherford later added in the story, “This is a player in a special situation who rolled the dice, he held out, he’s a world-class player and probably one of the top-five players in the world right now. He deserves to make more money. This is part of the building blocks to being in a new market … and having a franchise player.”

The Red Wings ultimately matched the offer and Fedorov not only ended up making a ton of money to play in only a quarter of the season, he played a massive part in the team winning its second straight Stanley Cup.

But it wasn’t just the fact that a last place team in a new market made the bold move to sign a superstar to a massive offer sheet that made this so intriguing. The underlying storyline here was also the fact the owners of the teams (Peter Karmanos with the Hurricanes and Mike Ilitch with the Red Wings) had a long history of being rivals in pretty much every walk of life.

Karmanos initially tried to move the Whalers to suburban Detroit after purchasing the team in 1994 (they would have played at The Palace Of Auburn Hills) something that obviously did not sit well with the Red Wings, while the two men had extensive business operations in the Detroit area (Ilitch with Little Caesars; Karmonas with a computer software company).

They were also active players in Detroit’s amateur hockey scene that resulted in Ilitch evicting Karmanos’ major junior team out of Joe Louis arena.

So … yeah. These two guys had major beef for a long time, and adding a restricted free agent offer sheet for one of the league’s best players certainly didn’t calm things down.

At least they never tried to fight in a barn, something that nearly happened in our next situation.

The Oilers’ wild summer of 2007

Knowing what we know now about how slow the RFA market typically is, it is completely absurd to look back now and remember that the Edmonton Oilers, under the direction of Kevin Lowe, signed two offer sheets in the same summer.

It all began on July 6, 2007, when he attempted to sign Thomas Vanek to a seven-year, $50 million contract in an effort to pry him away from the Buffalo Sabres. At the time Vanek was one of the league’s best young goal-scorers and was coming off of a 43-goal season. Even though he had played just two years in the league, he had already scored 68 goals and was an emerging star.

The Sabres immediately matched the offer.

So Lowe set his sights elsewhere and three weeks later targeted the reigning Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, signing Dustin Penner to five-year, $21.5 million offer sheet.

Prior to the signing then-Ducks general manager Brian Burke had said he would match any offer sheet that Penner was signed to, but he probably was not anticipating that sort of offer. Even though Penner was coming off of a 29-goal season for the Ducks, he had still only played 101 games in the NHL and had just 33 total goals (less than half of what Vanek had scored at the same point in their careers).

The offer infuriated Burke and resulted in him publicly blasting Lowe in the media the next day.

Along with calling the contract “gutless,” Burke also added that “Edmonton has offered a mostly inflated salary for a player, and I think it’s an act of desperation for a general manager who is fighting to keep his job.”

The feud between the two executives reached a point to where Burke wanted to rent a barn in Lake Placid so they could physically fight.

The Ducks refused to match the offer and in return received the Oilers’ first, second, and third round draft picks the following year.

From there, a lot of things happened.

  • The first-round pick Anaheim received ended up being the No. 12 pick in the draft. Anaheim then traded that pick for the No. 17 and 28 picks in 2008. They then used the No. 17 pick to select Jake Gardiner, who would eventually be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs (along with Joffrey Lupul) in exchange for Francois Beauchemin.  The No. 28 pick was traded for two second-round picks.
  • The second-round pick Anaheim received from Edmonton was used to select Justin Schultz, who ended up never signing with the Ducks and once he became a free agent signed with … the Edmonton Oilers.

Penner was mostly okay with the Oilers, but probably wasn’t worth the assets they gave up to get him.

Flyers go all in for Shea Weber

Ah, yes, the Paul Holmgren era Philadelphia Flyers.

If there was a blockbuster to be made this team was going to do it. One year after overhauling his entire roster by trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter so he could throw a bank vault at Ilya Bryzgalov, Paul Holmgren made what was perhaps his boldest move yet when he signed defenseman Shea Weber to a massive 14-year offer sheet that was worth $110 million.

[Related: Paul Holmgren’s year of crazy Flyers blockbusters]

The Predators were pretty vulnerable at the time because this was the same summer they had lost Ryan Suter in free agency to the Minnesota Wild, which came just a couple of years after losing Dan Hamhuis. The team was built around its defense and two of its three most important players were already gone. Losing Weber at that time would have been absolutely crushing.

The Predators decided to pass at the opportunity to collect four first-round draft picks from the Flyers and matched the offer.

They eventually traded Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban, and then traded Subban this summer to the Devils for … well … a lot of salary cap space.

Scott Stevens had an extensive — and important — history with offer sheets

One of the first significant offer sheets came when the St. Louis Blues signed Scott Stevens to a four-year, $5.1 million contract to pry him away from the Washington Capitals on July 16, 1990.

The Capitals declined to match the offer and ultimately received five first-round draft picks in return, with two of them turning into Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt, two players that would go on to be long-time staples on the Capitals’ blue line.

Stevens would only play one season with the Blues before he was on the move again in the summer of 1991 in one of the more controversial rulings in league history.

It was then that the Blues signed restricted free agent Brendan Shanahan away from the New Jersey Devils. Because the Blues were sending all of their first-round picks to the Capitals for signing Stevens, they had to agree to other compensation to get Shanahan. There was a disagreement on what that compensation should be.

The Blues offered goalie Curtis Joseph, forward Rod Brind’Amour, and two draft picks.

The Devils wanted Stevens.

An arbitrator decided that Stevens was the appropriate compensation and awarded him to the Devils in a decision that infuriated the Blues and other high-profile players around the league, including The Great One.

Blues superstar Brett Hull was not as calm or measured in his statements.

And more…

Wild times.

This was during a CBA fight between the players and league with the players trying to get greater free agent rights. So it is not hard to understand why the Blues (and other players around the league) were so angry about it.

Stevens initially refused to report to Devils camp. He eventually did and would go on to become one of the most important players in franchise history and was the backbone of three Stanley Cup winning teams.

But his RFA saga would not end with this.

In the summer of 1994 the Blues had attempted to re-acquire Stevens, again a restricted free agent, and signed him to a four-year, $17 million offer sheet.

The Devils would ultimately match it, but were convinced the Blues had tampered with Stevens and spoke to him before his Devils contract expired. The league then launched an investigation and NEARLY FIVE YEARS finally reached a settlement that would see the Blues send $1.4 million and a first-round draft pick to the Devils as compensation for tampering.

Then-Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello was not satisfied with that resulted and wanted more.

Via the New York Times:

”I don’t look at something of this nature as a triumph,” Lamoriello said yesterday in a conference call after Commissioner Gary Bettman handed down his decision. ”It’s a detriment to the N.H.L. I don’t think the compensation could be severe enough. My request was five first-round picks, plus damages.”

And…

”In a process of negotiations, when they are ongoing and you are speaking, you can usually sense when there is something else involved,” Lamoriello said. ”I sensed that I was talking to myself. I just felt as though there was something funny in the way things transpired, the way things went. I was the sole person that could be negotiating, but I felt very strongly reading some of the articles that did come out of St. Louis and things I was hearing, that something happened. Where there was some smoke, I wanted to make sure there wasn’t any fire.”

Rangers try for Joe Sakic

In the summer of 1997 the New York Rangers were coming off of a conference Finals loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and had just lost their captain, Mark Messier, in free agency to the Vancouver Canucks.

Their response: To sign Joe Sakic, at the time one of the league’s best players, to a three-year, $21 million contract that had as much as $15 million in signing bonuses up front. The compensation would have been five first-round draft picks.

The Avalanche refused to let their cornerstone player get away and matched the offer. They would go on to remain one of the league’s powers and would win another Stanley Cup with Sakic in 2001. The Rangers, meanwhile, stumbled through a seven-year run of mediocrity where they attempted to acquire every aging superstar in the league. Nothing worked and the team was consistently an expensive flop until finally returning to the playoffs during the 2005-06 season.

For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.

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.

For Berube, accountability led to a Stanley Cup for Blues

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Blues general manager Doug Armstrong had his staff produce a list of coaching candidates after firing Mike Yeo in November. He hasn’t looked at it since January.

The Stanley Cup champions formally announced a three-year contract extension for coach Craig Berube on Wednesday, officially taking the interim tag off. Maybe.

”He’s going to stay as an interim for the next three years because we’ve had some success with that,” Armstrong quipped.

Berube took over for Yeo in late November and led the Blues to one of the most dramatic turnarounds in NHL history, culminating with the first NHL championship in the franchise’s 52-year history. The Blues went 38-19-6 during the regular season under Berube, climbing from dead last in the league standings in early January to third place in the Central Division. The Blues were one of only seven teams to make the postseason after being last in the league in points that late in the season – and they are the only team to win a playoff series after climbing out of that hole, let alone win it all.

The 53-year-old Berube, a former NHL enforcer from a tiny hamlet in Alberta, Canada, won over the team by holding everyone accountable, including himself.

”Whether it’s through ice time, where you fit in in the lineup on a nightly basis,” Berube said. ”It’s really conversations with the players more than anything. It’s just putting the team-first mindset and drilling it into the team. That’s really, basically it. It takes a lot of work, it’s every day, but it’s getting that team-first mindset. Once we started to get that and once I started to see guys fitting in certain areas, we were playing pretty good hockey, we just weren’t getting the wins and that started to come.”

Armstrong told Berube that he would be the head coach in the final week of the regular season, but both sides agreed to hold off on negotiations until after the final game. That turned out to be a Game 7 win in the final last week. Financial terms were not disclosed.

”In any negotiation you walk in hoping it’s going to go quickly and this one did go relatively quickly, but you can get some bumps on the road, some differing opinions and I certainly didn’t want that walking into game two, or three or four of a playoff series,” Armstrong said. ”We wanted his mind focused on the task.”

Last fall, Berube immediately took down the standings in the locker room when he took over. It was one of the many moves that convinced Armstrong to ditch that list of coaching candidates.

”I think when you come in in October and you look at the standings, you’re excited that you’re at the top and then as you’re going lower and lower and lower, it gets depressing coming in on a Tuesday morning and looking up at 28 teams ahead of you,” Armstrong said. ”I thought it was a great idea to take those down. And really what he stressed to everyone in our group is, ‘Let’s live in the moment. You’re not going to change yesterday and tomorrow is going to come soon enough, let’s work on today.”’

That mindset served the Blues well, especially in the postseason where nothing came easy.

After winning the first two games on the road in the opening round against Winnipeg, St. Louis dropped the next two at home. The Blues went just 6-7 on Enterprise Center ice in the postseason, including losing Game 6 with a chance to win the Cup against Boston.

St. Louis could have folded after Game 3 in the third round after losing to the San Jose Sharks in overtime on a goal scored directly off of an illegal hand pass that wasn’t caught by the officials. Instead, taking their cue from Berube, the Blues won the next three games to close out the series.

”I thought Craig and his staff did a fabulous job of celebrating the victories through the end of that evening and then the next day coming back to work,” Armstrong said. ”We didn’t get hung up on a bad loss or too high on a win. When you get into the playoffs, I thought that was a huge advantage for our team.”

That mentality did not happen overnight.

”You’ve got to push it and prod and do all kinds of things to get everybody on the same page and to buy in, it takes a little time,” Berube said. ”They did a great job, our players. They wanted to be a good team and that obviously happened and they became a good team.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Roberto Luongo retires after 19 NHL seasons

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As the Florida Panthers prepare to be “aggressive” when the NHL free agency market opens next Monday, they’ll now definitely be in need of a goaltender after Roberto Luongo announced his retirement on Wednesday.

In an open letter to fans, the 40-year-old Luongo said he listened to his body and felt that now was the right time to walk away.

I love the game so much, but the commitment I required to prepare, to keep my body ready, has become overwhelming. Since I had my hip surgery a couple of years ago, I’ve been showing up two hours before every practice and three hours before every game to work out my hip. Even at night, whether it was the night before a game or even a night off, there I was rolling out, doing strengthening exercises. My entire life revolved around recovery, strengthening and making sure I was ready to go the next day.

As May rolled around, I was looking at the calendar and I found myself dreading getting back into my routine. My offseason workouts always start in the third week of May and I wasn’t looking forward to getting back in the gym. There’s a lot of work and effort required and I found my body telling me that it didn’t want to go through it.

Then thinking about getting onto the ice in late July, for the first time in my career, I wasn’t excited about it. That was the sign for me. It’s not that I don’t love playing hockey anymore, but I had to listen to my body. I’m at the point where my body was telling me it just needed a rest. It didn’t really want to get going.

The fourth overall pick in the 1997 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders, Luongo finishes his career with 1,044 games played (second-most by a goaltender), 489 wins (third all-time) and 77 shutouts (ninth all-time) between the Islanders, Panthers and Vancouver Canucks. He’s also one of only three goalies to have played 1,000 games in the NHL. He was a five-time All-Star, won a Jennings Trophy, was three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy (2004, 2007, 2011), a finalist for the Hart Trophy (2007), and was a finalist for the Bill Masterton Trophy (2018).

Internationally, Luongo won two Olympic gold medals with Canada, as well as two golds at the IIHF World Championship, and a 2004 World Cup of Hockey title.

There is a business side to Luongo’s retirement that not only affects the Panthers. The Canucks, who signed Luongo to his 12-year, $64M contract — the one he famously said “sucks” after staying put in Vancouver following the 2013 trade deadline — back in 2009 and then dealt him to Florida in March 2014, will carry a cap recapture penalty of $3.033M, per Cap Friendly, for the next three seasons, thanks to the agreement in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement on back-diving contracts. The Panthers’ penalty will be $1.094M until the end of the 2021-22 NHL season.

The Panthers could have placed Luongo on long-term injury reserve, but retirement saves them a little over $3.6M in real cash that was owed to the netminder.

As for life after playing, Luongo says he’s having a home built in Parkland where his family will remain. A proud resident, he delivered he delivered a passionate speech to the BB&T Center crowd before their first home game following last year’s shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He hopes to be part of the Panthers’ organization in some capacity in the future.

“For now though, I’m just another retiree in South Florida,” Luongo wrote. “I’ll be going to get my senior citizen’s card here pretty soon.”

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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.