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Penguins once again enrage Tortorella, this time because of Jack Johnson

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John Tortorella clearly can’t stand the Pittsburgh Penguins, and in that glorious feud, the gawking hockey audience counts as the real winners.

Perhaps the juiciest chapter in that hate-affair boiled over last night, as Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets were not happy about now-former CBJ defenseman Jack Johnson‘s comments about joining the Penguins. Torts & Co. were downright livid over Penguins GM Jim Rutherford piling on, too.

It’s all delicious, especially for those who want hockey banter to be about more than just canned quotes and cliches.

Penguins light the fire

In most cases, you need to read between the lines a bit with statements in hockey (see: how Lou Lamoriello subtly jabbed John Tavares about “individual success” in a press release). For instance, upon reflecting on his decision to join the Penguins, Jack Johnson may have slighted Columbus.

” …  I’ve been really wanting to be a part of a winning culture and a place where the expectations to win are as high as they can be and have a chance to win,” Johnson said, via the Penguins website. “I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better opportunity here.”

Johnson’s comments feel run of the mill at first, honestly. It’s mainly if you’re, say, part of a hockey franchise that still hasn’t ever won a playoff series, that you might feel your blood start to boil.

But it was Penguins GM Jim Rutherford’s comments about how Johnson was used late in his time with Columbus that really turned the knife deeper.

“I don’t think he had a bad year,” Rutherford said, via NHL.com’s Wes Crosby. “He was a healthy scratch at the end of last season. I know the reason why.”

Blue Jackets respond, with Torts losing it

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen provided the (relatively) calm response:

For what it’s worth, Johnson was largely ineffective for Columbus, and it remains bewildering that the Penguins weren’t just interested in JJ, but actually made a lengthy, substantial investment in a blueliner whose market value had to be questionable.

(Columbus couldn’t give him away at the trade deadline, after all.)

While Kekalainen seemed cool and collected, Tortorella did not take the same reserved approach, even by the fiery coach’s standards. He vented in a gloriously profanity-laced, get-the-popcorn way to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (sub required) in what is absolutely a must-read. It’s almost overwhelming to try to keep up with all of his righteous anger.

  • After explaining that the Blue Jackets “bent over backward” to try to help Johnson, including with his ugly, well-publicized financial troubles stemming from his family, Torts provided one of the many gems of the article. It’s efficient, too, as this specific quote blasts Rutherford as well.

” … And for him to backhand slap us like this is utter [expletive], and he should know better,” Tortorella told Portzline.

“No one wishes anything bad to happen to him and his family. We wish him the best. But for him to put it the way he put it today is [expletive]. And to have a general manager question our decision-making from three hours away, he must be a [expletive] magician.”

  • Tortorella isn’t coy about how Columbus is working hard to raise its profile in the league, which is clearly what these angry responses are about.

Well, that and Torts’ undeniable disdain for the Penguins.

  • Torts’ message for Rutherford and the Penguins, ultimately, is a more profane version of mind your own business.

“But you get an arrogant couple of guys, an arrogant guy … I don’t want to go to name-calling, cause I know Jimmy. He’s a good man. They’re both good people,” Tortorella said. “But what the [expletive] are they doing? Get on with your business! I hope (Johnson) plays his ass off for ’em, but stay the [expletive] out of our business when you don’t know what’s going on.”

As explosive as Tortorella’s comments are, he does have a point.

Rutherford’s take on there being some sort of seedier motivation for scratching Johnson – again, a defenseman with serious deficits in his game by both traditional and analytical standards – is pretty strange.

It’s also great that Tortorella used the word “arrogant” here, as it ties things together nicely with his history of dust-ups with the Pens.

An abridged history of Tortorella hating the Penguins

For my money, this is probably the most explosive chapter in this sometimes one-sided rivalry. (Seriously, take the time to read Portzline’s article. You won’t regret it.)

It’s getting to be quite the anthology, though.

Taking a shot at Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin: Back when Tortorella was with the Rangers, Torts slammed both the Penguins for whining and the NHL for allegedly having a double standard in Pittsburgh’s favor. It was glorious, and a good way to remind people that press conferences can be gold because they come during moments of raw emotion:

Whining enough for the whole league: After being asked about a Brandon Dubinsky suspension in November 2015, Tortorella responded, “We’re not going to whine here … Pittsburgh whines enough for the whole league.”

Another shot at Penguins stars: 2015 was an eventful year in the rivalry. Tortorella slammed Malkin for what he believed to be embellishment after a December game.

Just flat out saying he doesn’t like the Penguins: In late December 2017, Tortorella admitted the obvious: he doesn’t like the Pens.

Russian Machine Never Breaks’ Ian Oland transcribed the good stuff:

“Quite honestly, I don’t like the team,” Torts said. “And I say that, very…not in a personal way, but it’s a team that we want to beat. I guess maybe I’m defining it’s a little bit of a rivalry. We respect the team. It’s a really good hockey team we’re playing against, but yeah, you gotta have to have a little bit of an edge when you play against them and I think that’s the way we have to play.”

Ah, Torts. You’ll note that he also said that he has “respect” for the Penguins, yet it’s fair to wonder if he’s trying to deploy it in the way that Ricky Bobby used “with all due respect.”

The above list covers many of Torts’ outbursts about the Penguins, but chances are there’ve been even more. Especially behind closed doors.

We should all be thankful that a good number of those comments were made on the record.

***

As is often the case with Tortorella, his latest comments combine kernels of truth with an almost cartoonish bluntness. For many fans who dislike the Penguins, it’s like he’s expressing their thoughts, with or without the profanity.

Torts himself wondered how Jack Johnson’s former teammates might react to facing him again, so just to note, the Penguins and Blue Jackets first meet in Pittsburgh on Nov. 24. Johnson’s return to Columbus won’t come for a while, however, as the Penguins don’t face the Blue Jackets on the road until Feb. 26.

Chances are, Johnson won’t get the kind of reception he received after word of his family/money troubles surfaced.

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.

Trade: Flames get Lucic; Oilers receive Neal

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Call it a “change of scenery,” or probably most directly, trading problems. Either way, Alberta rivals the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers made a truly resounding trade on Friday, with the main takeaway being that Milan Lucic goes to the Flames, while James Neal is bound for Edmonton.

Yeah, wow.

Multiple reporters indicate that it’s close to one-for-one, although there are a few minor tweaks to consider.

The Calgary Herald’s Kristen Anderson reports that the Oilers are retaining 12.5 percent of Milan Lucic’s salary, which translates to $750K, while Edmonton is also sending Calgary a conditional third-round pick in 2020. It’s not clear yet what those conditions are.

If Anderson and others are correct, that means the trade boils down to:

Flames receive: Lucic, 31, minus $750K per year. That puts Lucic at $5.25M, with his contract running through 2022-23. Calgary also receives Edmonton’s 2020 third-round pick, if conditions are met.

Oilers receive: Neal, 31, who has a $5.75M cap hit that runs through 2022-23.

As you can see, the two players remain very similar in both cap hit, term, and even age. The Flames save $500K in cap space, while the Oilers add $500K, as Puck Pedia confirms.

Of course, when you’re talking about contracts teams largely want to get away from, it’s often about more than just cap hits. There are some significant ins and outs to that side of the discussion, including Lucic’s deal being essentially “buyout proof.” Neal, meanwhile, would be easier for the Oilers to buy out, if they decide to do that after an audition with the team.

On Saturday, PHT will try to wade through the variety of paths the two teams could take, whether it means sticking with Lucic and Neal respectively, or going for a buyout or trade. For now, let’s consider where they are in their careers.

Lucic’s tough times

After a productive first season in Edmonton where Lucic scored 23 goals and 50 points in 2016-17, Lucic plummeted down the depth chart and in production. This past season was rock bottom, as Lucic scored just six goals and 20 points in 79 games.

The bet on Lucic, some might say in part leading to the dreadful Taylor Hall trade, stands as one of the landmark gaffes of Peter Chiarelli’s Era of Error in Edmonton. It was clear that both the player and team needed to part ways, so now there’s at least peace in that regard.

A bumpy path for Neal, and brutal times in Calgary

Whether you like Neal – a player who absolutely goes over the line at times, when he loses his cool – or not, it’s tough not to feel for him after the last several years.

He was traded from the Stars to the Penguins in 2011, scapegoated a bit out of Pittsburgh on his way to Nashville in 2014, then scooped up by Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft, only to sign with the Flames (possibly in a relatively lukewarm free agent market) last summer. Now this trade sends Neal to Edmonton, making this the 31-year-old’s sixth NHL team, and his fourth in his past four seasons. Players as productive as Neal – aside from last season’s meltdown – rarely become journeymen like this.

Honestly, should we just get his nameplate ready for the Seattle [Unfortunately Not Supersonics] right now?

Despite that upheaval, Neal had been a guy who could score goals nonetheless. He peaked with 40 during his best days with Malkin in Pittsburgh (an 81-point output in 2011-12), but he sniped in multiple climates, generating 20+ goals in 10 consecutive seasons.

And then this Calgary season happened.

Neal never clicked with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, as Elias Lindholm instead took that plum gig. Neal slipped lower and lower in the lineup, sometimes becoming a healthy scratch, and ended 2018-19 with Lucic-like numbers (though in fewer games), as Neal managed only seven goals and 19 points. He was also an all-around disaster, as you can see from RAPM charts via Evolving Hockey that argue that, in some ways, Lucic was actually better last season, as Lucic at least wasn’t as much of a defensive disaster as Neal. Faint praise, but still:

Better times ahead, maybe?

Again, it’s easy to forget that both wingers are 31.

That’s not a great age to be when your contract looks inflated, but there’s also a chance that maybe both could turn things around, at least to some degree. With Neal closer to more productive seasons than Lucic, he’d seem to be a more likely candidate, especially if his rifle of a shot pairs nicely with Connor McDavid‘s all-world playmaking.

But both players have a shot at positive regression. Neal’s five percent shooting percentage from 2018-19 marked the only time in his career that he’s been below 10.4 percent, while Lucic shot at 6.8 in 2017-18 and 8.1 in 2018-19, compared to his career average of 13.5 percent.

Modest rebounds wouldn’t guarantee that either Neal or Lucic sticks around in their new climates. Improvements might just make each forward easier to trade, and more palatable to keep around while looking for trades. There’s simply a lot of room for “to be continued” elements to this move, from buyouts to trades and more.

***

As discussed above, there could still be twists and turns in these sagas, and some of those possibilities will be examined on Saturday. Yet, at this moment in time, this seems like the rare trade win for the Oilers. Maybe this is the start of a positive pattern now that Ken Holland is GM?

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 gets seven-year, $56 million deal from Rangers

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The New York Rangers have locked up Jacob Trouba with a seven-year, $56 million contract.

Trouba saw his restricted free agent rights acquired by the Rangers last month from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for defenseman Neal Pionk and 2019 first-round pick (Ville Heinola). General manager Jeff Gorton added up front by bringing Artemi Panarin to Broadway on July 1, so you knew that they were going to eventually come to an agreement to keep the 25-year-old defenseman in the fold following the June trade as they bulk up for a run in 2019-20.

“They’re building a winner tends to be the vibe I’ve gotten,” said Trouba following the trade to New York. “They treat the players first class. It’s very first-class organization. I mean, it’s New York so you’ve got a big stage and they expect a lot out of their team. We want to ultimately get to the Stanley Cup.”

 

Earlier this month Trouba had elected salary arbitration and had a July 25 date scheduled. But that was merely a formality to allow extra time for both sides to hammer out a deal.

According to PuckPedia, $22 million will be paid to Trouba over the next three seasons via signing bonuses and he has a no-move clause from 2020-21 to 2023-24 and a limited no-trade clause in the final two years of the deal.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The ninth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Trouba has spent the last six seasons with the Jets, playing 408 games and recording 42 goals and 179 points. In 2018-19 he set a career high with 50 points, making him the ninth defenseman 25 or younger to hit that mark in the past three seasons.

Gorton still has work to do this summer in deciding whether to re-sign RFAs Pavel Buchnevich (July 29 arbitration hearing), Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo, while working around the salary cap, which after this signing puts them over the ceiling. This could end up leading to a trade of Chris Kreider, who’s entering the final year of this deal carrying a $4.625 million cap hit but owed $4 million in salary for the coming season. They also have a 48-hour buyout window later this summer as well even if they settle with Buchnevich before his hearing.

MORE: Jets were never going to get enough for Trouba

————

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.

Key defensemen enter contract years, possible free agency

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Despite being the most exciting offseason since PHT started in 2010, the NHL will probably always lag behind the NBA when it comes to stars moving in free agency.

Rudely, players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid don’t even flirt with drama, instead sticking with their teams by signing extensions, often almost at the first possible moment they legally can. Again, rude.

So, it’s important to get that disclaimer out of the way. Chances are, the fascinatingly robust list of pending free agent defensemen will narrow down, possibly starting before the 2019-20 season begins.

But, even so, it’s quite the list, and a lot of these defensemen will earn enormous, team-changing raises, whenever their next deals get signed.

And, hey, sticking with your team can still alter its course. Just look at how scary that Drew Doughty extension ($11 million AAV through 2026-27) seems today compared to when Doughty re-upped with the Kings in July 2018.

Let’s consider some of the most intriguing names, split by UFA and RFA designations. Cap Friendly’s listings were helpful in putting this together, and being that these lists aren’t comprehensive, you may enjoy digging deeper there to find even more.

Prominent UFAs

Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), Roman Josi (Predators), Tyson Barrie (Maple Leafs), Torey Krug (Bruins), Jared Spurgeon (Wild, more on them here), Justin Faulk (Hurricanes), Jake Muzzin (Maple Leafs), Justin Schultz (Penguins), Christopher Tanev (Canucks), T.J. Brodie (Flames), Sami Vatanen (Devils), Travis Hamonic (Flames).

The headliners of this list – particularly Pietrangelo and Josi – must have licked their chops when Erik Karlsson signed that mammoth eight year, $92M ($11.5M AAV) contract with the Sharks. Pietrangelo and Josi don’t boast multiple Norris Trophies, yet they might also be healthier than Karlsson when he signed his deal, so there could be interesting value debates.

Either way, Roman Josi’s borderline-insulting $4M won’t cut it after 2019-20.

The marquee names are the most intriguing, yet there are interesting situations as you go down a rung and more. And those are the players who are arguably more likely to sign with new teams.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Would Toronto be able to bring back even one of Barrie or Muzzin after next season? Are the Hurricanes destined to move on from Faulk, or would they instead keep Faulk and move someone else, like Dougie Hamilton? Players like Faulk, Schultz, and Vatanen could see their value shift in big ways depending upon how well or poorly they perform in 2019-20. Will P.K. Subban‘s arrival hurt Vatanen, or will the former Ducks defenseman thrive in a more relaxed role next season for New Jersey?

There are a lot of intriguing situations to watch there.

Notable RFAs

Josh Morrissey (Jets), Thomas Chabot (Senators), Samuel Girard (Avalanche), Mikhail Sergachev (Lightning), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), Darnell Nurse (Oilers), Brandon Montour (Sabres), etc.

These players don’t have the same leverage as they’re restricted, but it should still be interesting if there’s a ripple effect when the Jets have to pay Morrissey, and how strenuous negotiations could be between Chabot and the penny-pinching Senators. Tampa Bay’s really brought Sergachev along slowly, and you wonder if they’d be wise to try to extend him before a potential breakthrough?

***

Again, extensions will kill some of the wildest daydreams by crossing names off the list long before July 2020. Don’t assume your team will happen upon a Pietrangelo or Spurgeon.

That said, there are certain “something has to give” situations. The Maple Leafs may know that they’re only getting Muzzin and Barrie for a limited time. The Bruins have a tight squeeze happening, especially with Charlie McAvoy still needing an RFA deal this summer.

Either way, teams should savor deals like Josi at $4M, because they won’t last much longer.

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.

Maple Leafs’ Marner mum on contract negotiations

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It’s not much, but for Toronto Maple Leafs fans willing to hang on anything said by still-unsigned restricted free agent Mitch Marner, it was at least something.

When Marner stepped in front of a crowd of reporters on Thursday, he did undoubtedly knowing what the first line of questioning would be. And the second, and the third.

When is he going to sign?

“Hopefully sooner than later,” Marner said. “I want to be there for the start of camp, so hoping something can get done then.”

From there, Marner steered those questions toward his agent as he threw on his best pair dancing shoes and showed he could sidestep with the best of them.

If you’re looking for a t-shirt slogan, “You have to ask my agent” is right up there with the best of them in Toronto these days.

 

“My agent and Kyle are doing it, and they’re going to figure something out,” Marner said.

One thing Marner made pretty clear is he wouldn’t be at training camp without a contract.

“Probably not,” he said. “There’s so much risk with that. It’s just something you don’t want to risk.”

What about an offer sheet?

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Marner whipped out the agent line once again, while saying he’s trying to stay out of all of that “stuff.”

So the uncertainty hasn’t affected you?

“None,” he said, before once again talking about his agent’s role in the negotiations.

What about fans’ concerns that you may not sign a contract with the Maple Leafs.

“I’m leaving all of that to my agent right now,” he said.

Those agents, man. Ruining Toronto’s summer for the second year in a row.

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First 3 🤟🏄

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Marner seemed unfazed by it all and appears to be enjoying his summer.

Why wouldn’t he? He’s about to get paid in a major way, but the Maple Leafs or any number of teams that would be willing to lavish cash upon him if given the chance.

Marner’s situation is one of several playing out this summer. He’s not the only big-ticket RFA without a deal so far.

Patrik Laine in Winnipeg, Brayden Point in Tampa Bay, Mikko Rantanen in Colorado are just a few others. It’s become commonplace for big names without arbitration rights on the RFA list to let negotiations span the summer, if not further.

Marner’s contract is only illuminated better because of where he plays. Dominating two national TV broadcasters on a daily basis in Canada.

And the fear in Leafs Nations is made only worse knowing all-too-well where this path can lead.

William Nylander‘s contract last summer dragged right into the regular season and Nylander and the Maple Leafs felt those effects throughout the season.

The same scenario with Marner would be worse, given he’s the team’s leading point-getter from last season.

A Toronto native, Marner said he’s well-accustomed to the media and said his phone has been shut off for much of the summer.

Like he said, his agent is running the show. Marner’s merely the main protagonist who has yet to be revealed in a complex script.

When he will is anyone’s guess.


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