Getty

The day Jaromir Jagr (probably) saved the Penguins

5 Comments

With Jaromir Jagr officially off to the Czech Republic to continue what is left of his professional hockey career it is entirely possible that we have seen the last of him in the NHL.

It would not exactly be a fitting farewell for what is, by pretty much any objection evaluation, one of the most productive careers in the history of the sport. But then again Jagr’s career was always full of sudden changes and moves.

Throughout a career that touched three different decades, Jagr played for nine different NHL teams (Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, New Jersey, Florida, and Calgary) and also took a three-year hiatus to play in Russia.

He won scoring titles, an MVP award, two Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal and ended up in the top-three for games played, goals and total points in league history.

He had his moments for pretty much every team he played for, but his time with the Penguins, the team that drafted him in the first-round of the 1990 NHL draft (No. 5 overall) is what his career will probably end up being defined by. He was at his most dominant with the Penguins, he won his two Stanley Cups with the Penguins, and along with Mario Lemieux helped form one of the most dominant duos the league has ever seen.

Having been born in Pittsburgh and still living there to this day, my boss here at PHT, Sean Leahy, asked me if I had any particular memories from Jagr’s time with the Penguins that were worth sharing after watching him for so many years.

Most people from Pittsburgh that watched Jagr up close might look at one of the Stanley Cup Final runs and one of the many huge goals he scored on the way to a championship — such as his overtime goal against New Jersey in 1991, or the incredible individual effort against Chicago in 1992 to complete the Penguins’ epic Game 1 comeback. Or perhaps just marveling at the numbers he put up during the NHL’s dead-puck era.

But the moment that always stood out to me was his performance in the first-round of the 1999 playoffs against the New Jersey Devils, specifically his effort in Game 6 of that series.


The late 90s Penguins were a bizarre team to look back on.

Lemieux had retired for the first time, Ron Francis had left as a free agent, and Jagr was the focal point of a team that, other than him, was usually pretty mediocre.

They never really had a top-pairing defenseman, they struggled to find a true No. 1 goalie, and while they had a couple of really good forwards like Alexei Kovalev and Martin Straka, it really wasn’t a team that was built to win — or even seriously compete for — a Stanley Cup.

But because Jagr was so dominant and so game-changing that they always at least had a chance to make the playoffs.

The 1998-99 season was a particularly challenging one for the Penguins off the ice because the team was going through bankruptcy proceedings with Lemieux working on his plan to ultimately rescue it.

There was serious talk that the team might actually be dissolved if Lemieux’s plan failed.

Not relocated. Dissolved.

The Penguins still managed to make the playoffs that year as the No. 8 seed and ended up with a first-round matchup against the top-seeded Devils. They were heavy underdogs, not only because of the fact the Devils simply had a better team, but also because Jagr was dealing with a severe groin injury that sidelined him for four of the first five games of the series.

He was able to return to the lineup for Game 6 with the Penguins facing elimination.

Even though he was clearly not 100 percent, he not only played the game on what was basically one leg, he played 29 of the 68 minutes in the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win.

And he was by far the best player on the ice, turning in one of the most single dominant performances of his NHL career. He tied the game with just over two minutes to play in regulation, then won it in overtime to force a Game 7 in New Jersey two nights later (the Penguins, led by Jagr, won that game as well to advance to the second round).

But it wasn’t just the two goals that stood out. It was simply the way he played. Take a look at the highlights from that game. New Jersey never had an answer for him.

Given the context of everything around that day — the financial state of the team and its uncertain future, the fact the Penguins were expected to lose, Jagr playing through a major injury and dominating — it was just a mind-blowing performance.

Back in 2013 Jagr recalled that game and called the overtime goal one of the biggest goals of his career.

“I remember that like it happened yesterday,” Jagr said. “I pulled my groin in the first game. We were losing 3-2 in the series and if we would lose the first round I think the team would move to Kansas City because they had no money. We had to make the second round to get the (money) for the payments.

Jagr continued: “I came back and I tied it with a minute-and-a-half to go and then I scored in overtime. That was probably my best game ever, I would say. My most important for sure. I’ll probably never score a goal that important.

“Probably if I hadn’t scored that goal the team wouldn’t be in Pittsburgh right now. (Sidney) Crosby would be in Kansas City.”

The Penguins ended up losing in the second-round to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there was no denying how important it was in a financial sense for the team to get to the second-round that season.

Lemieux ultimately ended up rescuing the team from bankruptcy and ended up returning to the ice for another run with Jagr.

After the 2001 season Jagr’s Penguins career to an end with the trade that sent him to the Capitals for Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk, marking the beginning of the second half of his career that saw him bounce around the NHL every couple of years.

Including playoffs, Jagr scored 844 goals in the NHL, with 504 of them coming as a member of the Penguins.

Given what it meant for the long-term viability of the franchise, there is an argument to be made that none were bigger than the two goals he scored in the spring of 1999, even if they did not result in a Stanley Cup that season.

————

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.

PHT Morning Skate: William Karlsson’s contract conundrum; worrisome free agent signings?

Getty Images
Leave a 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.

• Here’s a look at why William Karlsson has become the NHL’s most intriguing contract conundrum this summer. (The Hockey News)

• We’ve had a litany of storylines thus far this summer, but here’s a list of 11 that have yet to play out. (Sportsnet)

• The Minnesota Wild may start looking at their stable of youth to help the team on the ice this season. (NHL.com)

• Looking for an NHL team on Forbes’ new list of the top 50 richest sporting franchises in the world? Hint: You won’t find one. (Sportsnet)

• Every summer, some of the contracts teams extend to free agents are worrisome. Here’s a few of those from this summer. (Yahoo Sports Canada)

• After showing good signs at the AHL and NHL level last season, what is next for Montreal Canadiens forward Nikita Scherbak? (Eyes on the Prize)

• After the latest developments in a Minnesota courtroom, what is next in the concussion lawsuit against the NHL? (The Athletic)

• There’s been a lot of talk about Jacob Trouba and his contract situation but what about his other half, Josh Morrissey? (Winnipeg Sun)

• National Tattoo Day in Canada meant a celebration of inking for Montreal Canadiens fans. (Montreal Gazette)

• Here’s a list of five NHL players primed for comeback seasons in 2018-19. (FanSided)

• The latest NHL concussion ruling likely means the splintering of cases across several jurisdictions. (Business Insurance)

• A wishlist for NHL 19. (The Sports Daily)

• Are the Vancouver Canucks following in the footsteps of the Winnipeg Jets? (The Canuck Way)

• These guys haven’t hit the ice, nor made their respective team’s opening night roster. But here’s the top Calder candidates for next season. (The Grueling Truth)

• New chest pad regulations for NHL goaltenders are already surrounded in injury controversy. (The Comeback)


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

What’s the right contract for Tom Wilson, Capitals?

Getty
21 Comments

What kind of price to put on grit, agitation, intimidation?

In the NHL, it’s something of a Rorschach Test for GMs. It’s easier to gauge the value of elite players and middle-of-the-pack guys when scoring is their calling card, but when it comes to “intangibles,” prices can vary.

Even with that in mind, Tom Wilson stands as a tricky test case.

You can tie yourself in knots examining the agitating winger, especially if you’re a Washington Capitals fan nervously hoping that the RFA signs a deal soon. Relief won’t come from the latest update, either; the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan reports that Wilson’s agent Mark Guy said that the two sides aren’t “done or close.”

Khurshudyan provides some interesting ranges for a possible contract: Guy told her that a new deal could be “north of four years,” while Washington also indicated a preference for a long-term agreement. The salary cap could fall somewhere in the $3.5-$4.5 million range, according to Khurshudyan.

With Wilson (probably wisely) opting against salary arbitration, it’s a lot tougher to guess when something will formulate.

But, hey, that gives hockey people plenty of time to bicker about his value. Back when Wilson was suspended during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert summarized the debate regarding the 24-year-old’s value.

” … He is more accurately described a middle-six forward who has been thrust into a bigger role because Barry Trotz is trying to spread the offense across the first two lines more evenly. A lot is made of the fact that Wilson finished with 32 points at 5-on-5 this season, because that was fourth on the Capitals behind only Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Nick Backstrom. But look at the guys who had that many 5-on-5 points this year: Alex DeBrincat, Dustin Brown, Gabe Landeskog, Gus Nyquist, Josh Bailey, Kevin Fiala, and Vince Trocheck. These are guys for whom a pretty reasonable evaluation is “They’re mostly pretty good,” but not much more than that, and with the exception of Landeskog and Brown, none of them played with guys who, like Ovechkin, were legit MVP candidates.

The remarkable thing about Wilson is that various debates can swing both ways.

From an “intangibles” perspective, you could argue that he can be something of a poor man’s Todd Bertuzzi, “opening up space” for forwards such as Alex Ovechkin, and maybe get opponents off their game with a violent hit or a fight. Conversely, someone could argue that his tendency to take penalties could put his team in a bad position, or perhaps that players looking to deliver crushing checks may find themselves out of position.

The pure numbers get more complicated as you burrow deeper.

On one hand, his career-high came this season, with a modest 14 goals and 35 points. While he rode shotgun with Ovechkin for significant chunks of time, he also didn’t get a lot of reps on the Capitals’ deadly power play.

Wilson’s possession stats were pretty good for a player of his style … yet again, that sometimes came with high-end players, and he also enjoyed some cushy offensive zone starts in some cases, too.

Still, a guy who can score a bit, hit a lot, and kill a ton of penalties brings quite a bit of value. As a former first-rounder (16th overall in 2012), few would doubt that the Caps hold Wilson in high regard.

The Capitals also boast a pretty robust $8.26M in cap space, according to Cap Friendly, so even though they’ve been prudent when it comes to bringing back members of their championship squad, they’d struggle to say that they can’t afford to pay Wilson at full value.

*Phew*

Is your head spinning yet? That would be understandable, and maybe that explains why contract negotiations seem stilted. What kind of deal would make sense for Wilson?

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.

Sharks should still go bold after failing to land Tavares

Getty
2 Comments

No doubt about it, landing John Tavares was the best-case scenario for the San Jose Sharks this summer. They showed as much with what was reported to be a generous offer, but it was not to be.

The question, then, is what is Plan B?

So far, Sharks GM Doug Wilson has been content to lock up some noteworthy in-house talent, and that’s really soaked up a lot of that would-be Tavares money. After signing Joe Thornton for one year, extending Evander Kane to a big deal, and giving term to Tomas Hertl, the Sharks knocked off one of the final items on their to-do list by avoiding salary arbitration with Chris Tierney via a two-year deal.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the cap hit comes in at $2.9375 million per season.

As it stands, the Sharks aren’t actually all that flush with money. According to Cap Friendly, they’re only about $4.4M under the ceiling with all 23 roster spots covered.

Does that mean that Wilson can go tan on a beach for the rest of the summer? Maybe that’s the call now that Tavares is off the table, but allow some advice: the Sharks should instead go for it … in 2018-19.

There are a slew of interesting trade options for players with expiring contracts right now, and for many teams, that’s the stumbling block. Why give up assets just for a guy who can walk in free agency next summer? Such a thought process might explain the lack of an Erik Karlsson trade, in particular, right now.

The funny thing is, the Sharks might get protected from themselves by such a barrier.

Simply put, the Sharks’ core is aging, a point we’ve made plenty of times at PHT. Even beyond the obvious (Joe Thornton at 39), Brent Burns is already 33, Joe Pavelski is 34 and entering a contract year, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 31, and even recently extended Logan Couture is 29. Adding another risky long-term contract could make for a scary situation in San Jose, especially when you consider that Max Pacioretty – one of the optimal targets – is 29 himself.

(Jeff Skinner would theoretically be a more palatable risk since he’s 26, yet just about any long-term contract carries risks for an aging team such as the Sharks.)

Let’s list off the reasons why the Sharks should make big commitments, but mainly for 2018-19, since this is theoretically a great time to poach someone on an expiring contract.

  • Again, this team’s window could close soon. The Sharks might as well swing for the fences while they still can.
  • The free agent market is too shallow for a shark to swim.
  • Beyond the worrisome miles on key players (and the possibility that they might have to let Pavelski walk after this coming campaign), the Sharks are simply formatted for this. They’re already heading into 2019 without their first and fourth-round picks, while their two second-rounders could help them put together the sort of trade package that might be acceptable for a Skinner or Pacioretty.
  • Pacioretty would work under the cap, as his $4.5M cap hit essentially matches the room San Jose currently possesses. They’d either demote someone to the AHL or include some salary in a hypothetical trade to make it actually fit. Skinner’s a little pricier at $5.725M, but moving around deals or some salary retention would alleviate those concerns.
  • Both Skinner and Pacioretty could really give the Sharks that extra boost as scoring wingers. Pacioretty would play with the best center of his career – whether he’d land with Couture or Thornton – while Skinner would be shooting for his first-ever postseason bid. Naturally, both would carry contract motivations, which never hurts one’s ambition.
  • And, hey, maybe a player like Skinner or Pacioretty would earn such rave reviews during an audition that the Sharks decide to re-sign them anyway? The cap could always rise for 2019-20, and such a player could serve as a Pavelski replacement.

That’s a pretty decent list, right?

Now, naturally, the Canadiens and Hurricanes might just want to keep those players for themselves, or perhaps their asking prices will be too steep for San Jose. From here, it sure seems like the right strategy for the Sharks.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it would just be flat-out fun to watch Thornton set up Pacioretty for goal after goal …

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, Jets millions apart as arbitration date nears

Getty Images
1 Comment

With less than 48 hours to go before his arbitration date, Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets are reportedly millions apart in valuation for the top-pairing defenseman.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Wednesday that Trouba is looking for $7 million per season while the Jets, at the moment, are sitting at the $4-million mark instead.

This isn’t unusual for a team to be low-balling ahead of an arbitration case while a player shoots for the moon — it’s an oft-used strategy.

Trouba’s underlying numbers suggest he’s among the league’s best rearguards, but when it comes to goals and assists, he doesn’t show as well. And with Trouba, there’s always the question about his durability, having completed 81 games just once in his career and never playing more than 65 in a season in his four other seasons in the NHL.

Arbitration is no fun for either side, where the dirty laundry is aired and teams tell players why they don’t deserve the money they think they do. But it appears increasingly likely that Trouba’s July 20 date will come to fruition in what would be a first for the Winnipeg Jets and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff since the team relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.

The Jets also have forward Adam Lowry (July 22), Brandon Tanev (July 25) and Marko Dano (July 30) with scheduled arbitration hearings. Last week, the Jets handed Vezina runner-up Connor Hellebuyck a six-year, $37 million contract, avoiding a potential arbitration hearing with him as well.

Looking at the comparables likely doesn’t favor Trouba and his current valuation of himself.

Take for instance Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He’s in the third year of a six-year deal that sees him pocketing $5.4 million per season.

Jones had 57 points last year, including a career-high 16 goals.

Trouba finished the season with three goals and 24 points and has eclipsed 30 just once (33) in his five-year career.

Colton Parayko also comes to mind.

The St. Louis Blues d-man signed a five-year, $27.5 million deal last summer after a 35-point season and put up the same total in 2017-18.

Another deal that can be used as a comparison is Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators. Josi signed a seven-year, $28 million deal prior to the 2013-14 season.

In the two years before signing the deal, Josi’s numbers were comparable to Trouba’s and Josi is now likely going to get a significant pay raise after hovering around the 50-point mark for the past four seasons.

The end game, at least this season, likely results in a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $5 to $5.5 million for Trouba. The Jets have the option to give Trouba two years, but he would become an unrestricted free agent following the 2019-20 season, so a one-year deal makes sense for the Jets and will put both sides in the same scenario next season if a long-term deal isn’t hashed out before then.

Both sides have said they’d like to commit to one another long-term. The Jets would like to see Trouba’s production go up, and if he can hit the 45-50-point window this season, there’s a good chance there wouldn’t be a second arbitration case but rather a long-term deal to stick in Winnipeg.

Trouba has been given everything he wanted after initially wanting out of Winnipeg two years ago. He’s on a contender playing on one of the league’s best shutdown tandems and commanding big minutes every night.

If he wants to get paid like an elite defenseman, he needs to score like one and will have every opportunity to earn the raise next summer, assuming the Jets hand him a one-year deal after their arbitration hearing on Friday.


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