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Significant changes could be coming to Ducks roster

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After losing in the Western Conference Final to the Nashville Predators in 2017, many expected the Anaheim Ducks to go on another run this year. The Ducks had an up-and-down regular season, but did enough to finish second in the Pacific Division. Unfortunately for them, that’s as good as it got.

Once the playoffs kicked off, all they did was make a quick appearance. They had home-ice advantage going into their first-round series against the Sharks, but they still failed to win a single game during the series. They packed their bags for the summer after a 4-0 sweep at the hands of their California rivals.

Veteran teams that get swept in the first round are rarely spared of major changes the following off-season. So what changes might be coming in Anaheim this summer?

Corey Perry

When looking at the Ducks roster, the first name that jumps out as a possible trade candidate is Corey Perry.

Perry has won everything there is to win at the highest levels of hockey, but there’s no denying that his production has dried up over the last few years. Since 2013-14, his goal totals have been 43, 33, 34, 19 and 17. That’s a significant drop off for a guy who’s about to earn$8.625 per year for the next three years. If the Ducks can find a taker, they’d pull the trigger on a deal.

There’s a couple of issues though. First, he’s expensive. Second, we’ve already talked about his dip in production. And lastly, he also has a no-movement clause. Finding a team willing to take Perry and finding a squad he’s willing to go to won’t be easy for GM Bob Murray.

Oh, and by the way, Perry also added a zero points during Anaheim’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Sharks.

Taking a look at the 33-year-old’s advanced stats (via Natural Stat Trick), you can see the regression jump off the page. His CF% (47.46), FF% (46.70), SF% (46.70) and SF% (48.9) are some of the lowest numbers he’s posted in his career. This comes one year after he had already posted a bunch of new lows.

Ryan Kesler

Another veteran that might not be available for totally different reasons, is Ryan Kesler. The veteran has had injury troubles the last couple of years and his aching hips could cause him to miss all of 2018-19.

The Ducks only had him for 44 games in 2017-18, but it’s clear that he’s an important part of their team. He’s able to contribute offensively while playing a sound defensive game, too.

Again, unlike the Perry situation, this one is injury related, but it still affects their depth down the middle in a negative way.

Depth forwards

As of right now, the Ducks only have nine forwards under contract if you count Troy Terry, who played two regular season games at the end of last season. Depth players like Derek Grant, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, Jason Chimera and J.T. Brown are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie are restricted free agents and both are expected back.

Murray has the benefit of being able to add some fresh new bodies to his lineup. There’s no need to bring back many (if any) of those depth forwards, so they could look at signing quality depth once the market opens.

As of right now, Anaheim has $65 million committed to next year’s team (the cap is expected to be between $78 million and $82 million next season). They’ll have a little wiggle room, but it’s important to note that Kase, Ritchie and defenseman Brandon Montour will all need to get raises this summer. Also, Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg and John Gibson will all need new contracts next off-season, so the Ducks can’t spend foolishly right now.

Defense

There probably won’t be too many changes on the back end in terms of veterans coming in and out of the lineup, as the Ducks already traded Sami Vatanen in-season. Expect them to roll with Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Montour and Korbinian Holzer. The biggest changes might come in the form of rookies Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson, who could be ready to take on a regular shift with the Ducks next season. Both are highly-regarded prospects that should be around for many years to come.

One familiar face that will likely be gone is Kevin Bieksa, whose two-year, $8 million contract has finally come to an end. He served as a healthy scratch a few times last season, so don’t expect them to bring him back into the fold for another stint.

Goaltending 

Things probably won’t be much different between the pipes. Both Gibson and veteran backup Ryan Miller have one year remaining on their current contracts. Gibson will be an RFA next summer, while Miller will be free to test the open market if he chooses to do so.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Flames are saying right things about Mike Smith’s workload

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The Calgary Flames put all their eggs (goaltending-wise) in the Mike Smith basket last season, and that worked out better than most expected … yet they still failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That thought has to gnaw at all but the most optimistic people involved with the Flames. At least, it should, as for all the bold changes “riverboat gambler” GM Brad Treliving made, they’re rolling with the same goalies behind Smith in 2018-19.

As a reminder, the rotation of David Rittich, Jon Gillies, and Eddie Lack absolutely flopped last season, with Rittich’s less-than-ideal .904 save percentage representing the high water mark behind the often-dazzling Smith.

One of the criticisms of the Smith acquisition revolved around his injury history, and when that issue reared its head last season, the Flames really took on water. Players don’t exactly become sturdier as they age, so it would be foolish for Calgary just to “hope for the best” with the 36-year-old netminder, especially since Smith is one of many towering NHL goalies who be tall enough to serve as an NBA small forward. That big frame doesn’t exactly lend itself to longevity.

It’s also not as if Smith’s enjoyed a low-impact stroll to 36; this isn’t the equivalent to, say, Tim Thomas not really logging those big NHL reps until he was 31.

Since joining the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 2011-12, Smith’s played the seventh-most games (367), and tellingly, faced the second-largest volume of shots (11,256, only trailing Henrik Lundqvist). Smith could be a Zdeno Chara-level fitness freak, and he’d still be jarringly susceptible to additional injuries.

So, there are enough red flags to make you worry.

Yet, while the Flames decided to cross their fingers that they’d settle upon an in-house solution (barring a desperate training camp phone call to, say, Steve Mason?), they aren’t sticking their hands in the sand about the fine line they need to walk with their grizzled veteran of a goalie.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

“The wear and tear, remember, isn’t just the shots, it’s getting ready, getting the gear on. You hear people say: ‘Oh, he wasn’t very busy tonight. Only 26 shots’ … well, he’s mentally preparing on every shot,” Treliving said, via George Johnson of the Flames website. “There might’ve been 12 blocks and 20 misses. So he’s still preparing for 58. How many up-and-downs is that? It can take a toll.

“We’ve got a plan but a lot of it is predicated on Mike. But it’s a balancing act. He wants to get his work in but there’s a time once the season is up and going where discretion is the better part of valour.”

Treliving brings up an important point even beyond all of the “ups-and-downs,” as goalies need to focus and track the puck all game long. When Braden Holtby discussed fatigue during that hiccup during the 2017-18 regular season, his emphasis was as much on the mental rigors of the game as the physical challenges.

“Physically, I actually feel way better this year than last,” Holtby said. “If you’re fatigued physically, that’s on you. That’s not on anything else. But mentally, it does catch up.”

Holtby (who recently turned 29) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (now 24) both acknowledged being tired last season, and they’re far younger than Smith, so it’s positive to see Treliving discuss taking an approach with Smith that would echo the way MLB teams obsessively protect the arms of their pitchers.

Of course, it’s one thing to say all of the right things in mid-September, but what about if the Flames need those critical points in March, particularly if Smith is once again lapping his backups?

It’s also worth asking if Bill Peters – a coach who must be agonizingly anxious to finally clinch a playoff berth – would be willing to look big picture and give his big goalie needed rest. That would be a concern with any coach, yet especially one who admitted to handling things poorly with Eddie Lack, and whose goalies floundered in Carolina.

(There’s no guarantee that Peters is at fault for faulty Hurricanes goaltending, or to what degree he might be to blame. Still, he was a common denominator as Carolina struggled in that area.)

Even for those of us who thought they erred in trading away underrated defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the Flames look like a fascinatingly dangerous team on paper.

On the other hand, they looked just as formidable heading into last season, only to fall well short of expectations, even with a mostly spry Smith. For a team that clearly holds some pretty lofty ambitions, it’s awfully scary to risk so much on the health and freshness of their 36-year-old goalie.

At least they don’t seem totally oblivious to the risks they’re taking.

MORE PHT FLAMES COVERAGE:
Three questions facing the Flames
Under Pressure: Brad Treliving

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.

Erik Karlsson up for challenge of finding fit with Sharks

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Let’s get the business part out of the way first. An extension with the San Jose Sharks isn’t on Erik Karlsson’s mind just yet. As he was formally introduced on Wednesday afternoon, he donned the team’s jersey for the first time after a few days of waiting for immigration issue to be sorted and packing for the biggest move of his life.

“I realized I have a pretty big closet, I have a lot of things to bring,” joked Karlsson, who’s in the final year of his contract. “I didn’t think I had enough, but I think I have more than enough.”

While the Karlssons will keep their house in Ottawa, what happens in the next year is still up in the air. There was an expectation that an extension would be announced not long after the trade from the Senators was finalized — like Max Pacioretty. But not so fast noted The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, who pointed out that per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, an eight-year contract cannot be signed just yet, if Karlsson and his wife do decide they want to stay.

Break out your handy CBA and turn to page 285 and you’ll read this:

“An SPC with a term of greater than seven (7) years, provided, however, that a Club may sign a Player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years if that Player was on such Club’s Reserve List as of and since the most recent Trade Deadline. With respect to potential Unrestricted Free Agents only, the ability to re-sign a Player to an SPC of eight (8) years expires when the Player becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent. With respect to a Player who becomes a Group 2 Restricted Free Agent, a Club may sign such Player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years provided such Player was on such Club’s Reserve List and/or Restricted Free Agent List as of and since the most recent Trade Deadline.”

LeBrun added that the Sharks were aware of this rule when they made the trade.

Since we have five months before that situation can be resolved, the focus can be on the ice and Karlsson practiced with his teammates for the first time on Wednesday. General manager Doug Wilson added the “difference-maker” he so badly sought over the summer and his upgraded offensive arsenal can dig in for a Western Conference fight with the likes of the Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets.

[Erik Karlsson on Ottawa: ‘I never wanted to leave this place’]

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer wasn’t sure when he’d try to get Karlsson into one of the team’s final five preseason games. The next little while is about getting him settled into a new city, familiar with his new teammates and up-to-speed on the team’s systems.

“I don’t think Erik has to adapt at all,” DeBoer said. “He just has to do what he does. He’s one of the best players on the planet. We just need him to do what he’s done for his whole career… We play up-tempo, we play aggressive. We play the way he plays. He’s going to fit right in.”

“It’s definitely going to be a change,” Karlsson said. “I like to see challenges and I think it will be a fun challenge, not only for me but this whole team. They’ve been a successful team for a number of years. They were extremely good last year and I’m extremely excited to be part of a good organization and good hockey club right from the start. I’ll do everything I can to fit in as good as I possibly can and being able to play the best hockey I know I can do.”

Karlsson skated with Marc-Edouard Vlasic while Brent Burns was paired with Justin Braun. That’s a very, very strong top-four to throw out on the ice every night, and there’s still two weeks to experiment with different pairings.

(At one point, DeBoer put Karlsson out with Burns and Joe Pavelski during a three-on-three drill. Good luck slowing that trio down.)

The different dimensions of Karlsson’s game that he’s bringing to San Jose will give DeBoer plenty of options when he looks to deploy his new defenseman.

“What I love about Erik’s game, everybody looks at the offense, but he’s an exceptional defensive player, too,” said DeBoer. “So, I think we can use him in every situation. There’s very few players in the world that I would term that you can use in the last minute of games when you’re up, or you’re down, to shut down the other team’s best players to create offense when you’re from behind, and he’s one of those guys. He has those types of tools. We’re going to use him in a lot of different ways.”

MORE: Karlsson trade gives Sharks NHL’s most explosive defense

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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 Morning Skate: Dotchin details emerge; China market for growth, players

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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.

• Up top, that’s the new All-Star Game logo with this season’s rendition in San Jose.

Jake Dotchin checked in 30 pounds over his playing weight from last season. (TSN)

• The NHL is going to be patient if it wants to reap the rewards that a China partnership could produce. (The Hockey News)

• Sticking with the NHL… they believe Henrik Zetterberg is a legitimate case for long-term injured reserve, but they’ll investigate anyway. (The Score)

• U.S. gambling monster lurks under the NHL’s bed. (Winnipeg Free Press)

• Here’s an oxymoron: The NHL’s most underrated superstar. (The Hockey Writers)

• Here are the most overpaid players heading into the 2018-19 season. (Daily Hive)

• Every team’s biggest issue heading into the new season. (CBS Sports)

• How Sharks’ all-in trade for Erik Karlsson affects West’s power structure, now and later. (Sporting News)

• Who cares what Connor McDavid‘s rating is. Here are the highest rated tough guys. (Real Sport)

• Vegas remains the NHL’s hottest ticket. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• China both a market for growth and a pipeline for players. (The Athletic)

Jesse Puljujarvi wants to take the next step in Edmonton. (Edmonton Sun)

• When pro athletes are accused of abuse, how often does punishment follow? (The Tennessean)


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

Max Domi ejected after punching, bloodying Aaron Ekblad

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Max Domi didn’t take long to make an impact with the Montreal Canadiens, but it might earn him a suspension for when the games actually start to matter.

Domi was ejected from tonight’s 5-2 exhibition loss to the Florida Panthers after landing what many call a sucker-punch on defenseman Aaron Ekblad. As you can see, Ekblad fell and was bloodied by the blow, and did not return to the contest.

The best news is that, so far, it sounds like Ekblad is OK. Being bloodied by such an exchange would already be a concern, but that was especially worrisome since the 22-year-old has a history of concussion issues.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner said that team doctors determined that Ekblad didn’t suffer a concussion or a broken nose, according to The Athletic‘s Arpon Basu. Now, it’s worth noting that sometimes concussion symptoms don’t truly surface until after the adrenaline wears off, so there’s a chance that an additional update about Ekblad could be less positive. Either way, it’s positive that the early word is optimistic.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Whether you think it’s a fair course or not, Ekblad’s relative health could be good news for Domi and the Canadiens, as the Department of Player Safety factors injuries into possible suspension decisions.

Domi, 23, received a one-game suspension back in March 2016 for instigating this fight with Ryan Garbutt:

Whether he’s suspended or not, this isn’t a great start for Domi, although some Habs fans will be happy to see Tie’s son assert himself. So there’s that.

In case you’re wondering, Alex Galchenyuk is making a positive first impression with the Arizona Coyotes, including scoring two goals in a recent exhibition. The hits just keep coming for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, but at least they aren’t in the literal form of Domi’s fists.

Did you note that these two teams are division rivals? They’ll take on each other four times in 2018-19, so we’ll see if Luongo’s warning holds up.

“Bit of a gutless play,” Luongo said, via TSN’s John Lu. ” … We definitely won’t forget about it.”

The Panthers will have a chance to forget about it, or at least let the anger simmer down, as the two teams don’t meet in the regular season until a Dec. 28 contest in Florida.

UPDATE:

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.