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Ennis signing a glimpse into Maple Leafs’ free agent future

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When people look back at Kyle Dubas’ time as Toronto Maple Leafs GM, they’re not going to devote a chapter of that book to signing Tyler Ennis to a dirt-cheap contract.

Still, the thing about Dubas is that, in an ideal scenario, he might use his analytics background to make smart moves not just in bombastic ways by signing John Tavares, but also by improving the Maple Leafs at the margins.

There’s no guarantee that Ennis will be an everyday player for the Maple Leafs, as it’s quite plausible that the 28-year-old could be passed up in training camp by Marlies hoping to graduate from winning a Calder Cup in the AHL (and exciting Dubas greatly) to roster sports with the big team.

Yet, by signing Ennis to a $650K clip, the Maple Leafs are opening the door for the diminutive forward to provide really nice value.

Barely landing an NHL contract should provide plenty of motivation for Ennis to give this all he has, and while he’s undoubtedly a small player, he can side into a variety of spots in the lineup and bring skill to the table. While Ennis only scored 22 points in 73 games for Minnesota last season, he only averaged about 12 minutes of ice time.

No doubt, the last three seasons have been brutal, with 2015-16 and 2016-17 ravaged by injuries.

Even so, Ennis is a three-time 20+ goal scorer, generating three 40+ point seasons and scoring at least 30 points on two other occasions. If injuries hit the Maple Leafs this season, it’s conceivable that Ennis could enjoy a reclamation season. If not, he could easily be demoted to the AHL or serve as a healthy scratch. The reward could be solid, while the risk is quite low.

Ennis-type signings are almost certainly going to be a more frequent feature of the Maple Leafs’ future than flashy ones like landing Tavares, too, at least when it comes to adding players from outside the organization.

Dubas pointedly states that the Maple Leafs will be able to retain core players around Tavares, which means striking a deal with William Nylander this summer and eventually coming to agreements with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

“We can, and we will,” Dubas said about signing those players during an interview on the “31 Thoughts” podcast.

Getting Matthews, Nylander, and Marner to sign team-friendly deals would be arguably an even more impressive feat than convincing Tavares to come home to Toronto, and it’s plausible to make it work. As much demand as those three could draw, the Maple Leafs boast a ton of leverage being that all three are/would be RFAs. It also doesn’t hurt that this team is built nicely to compete for quite a few years.

Depth is important in the NHL, though, and the other challenge for Dubas is to find dirt-cheap and/or value players to be the electrons to that high-level nucleus.

Some of that process comes down to cutting the fat. Toronto managed to get rid of an excessive depth contract without retaining salary by trading Matt Martin. It may end up being ideal to move Patrick Marleau in the final year of his contract, and recent events have shown that rebuilding NHL teams will often house cap hits for the cost of futures.

(Considering how Dubas likes to gather a quantity of picks by trading down, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’d have plenty of room to bribe teams while still having selections left over.)

Beyond that, it will be about rummaging through the bargain bin for supporting cast members, and echoing their rivals the Lightning in finding gems in the draft. Barring a skyrocketing salary cap over the next few years, there will be more Ennis-type signings than Tavares blockbusters for Toronto, at least if Dubas truly “can and will” keep the big four forwards in town.

So, the Ennis signing isn’t spectacular in a vacuum, yet if teams win more of these, they’ll win in the long run.

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.

The Buzzer: Hats off to Duclair; Staal one point away from 1,000

NHL Scores Eric Staal Minnesota Wild
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Three Stars

1. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators. This had to be a satisfying game for Duclair. He showed John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets that he does, in fact, know how to play the game by scoring three goals in a 4-3 win for the Ottawa Senators. That performance includes the game-winning goal in overtime. The 24-year-old Duclair now has 18 goals in 33 games this season and is on pace for more than 40 goals this season. Read all about his day here.

2. Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brian Dumoulin, Nick Bjugstad, and Patric Hornqvist out of the lineup the Penguins have more than $35 million in salary cap space sitting in the press box at the moment. They still keep finding ways to win. They picked up a 5-4 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings in Saturday thanks to another huge game from Rust. He scored two goals and picked up an assist in regulation, then scored the game-winning goal in the shootout. Rust now has 12 goals and 22 total points in only 19 games this season for the Penguins. He has always been one of their most versatile — and valuable — players, and he is showing why this season.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild. Staal has been on a roll for the Wild and thanks to his two-goal effort in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, he now has six points in his past five games and is up to 999 for his career. That means with one more point he would become only the 89th player in NHL history to hit the 1,000 point milestone. The Wild are one of the league’s hottest teams since the start of November with a 12-3-5 record in their past 20 games. They were 4-9-0 before in October.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • David Pastrnak extended his lead in the NHL goal-scoring race with a pair of goals in the Boston Bruins’ 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers. He now has 28 goals on the season and is five ahead of Jack Eichel.
  • Warren Foegele scored two goals for the Carolina Hurricanes, James Reimer stopped all 32 shots he faced and Dougie Hamilton scored against his former team in a 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames.
  • Anthony Beauvillier was the overtime hero for the New York Islanders as they topped the Buffalo Sabres.
  • The New Jersey Devils gave Alain Nasreddine his first NHL win as a head coach while the Taylor Hall watch continues. Read all about it here.
  • Frederik Andersen stopped 36 out of 37 shots as the Toronto Maple Leafs sent the fading Edmonton Oilers to their fourth consecutive defeat. It is the 200th win of Andersen’s career.
  • Jonathan Bernier backstopped the Detroit Red Wings to their second consecutive win as they hold off the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Mika Zibanejad‘s two goals are not enough for the New York Rangers as they drop a 4-3 shootout decision to the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Ben Bishop turned aside 37 out of 38 shots to help the Dallas Stars crush the Nashville Predators.
  • Evander Kane and Logan Couture both record two points as the San Jose Sharks get a much-needed win over the Vancouver Canucks. It is the first win for Bob Boughner as head coach of the Sharks.
  • Tyler Bozak scored two goals as the St. Louis Blues stunned the Chicago Blackhawks. Read all about it here.

Highlights of the Night

Timo Meier finishes a great passing play for the San Jose Sharks with an absolute rocket of a shot to beat Jacob Markstrom.

Jonathan Quick has really struggled the past two years, and it came in a losing effort in Pittsburgh on Saturday, but this series of saves in overtime is pretty ridiculous.

Garnet Hathaway score with some style for the Capitals.

Give this fan a contract

This is a $50,000 shot between periods in Montreal.

Factoids

  • The Blues’ comeback is just the second time in franchise history they erased a three-goal third period deficit to win. [NHL PR]
  • Zibanejad’s first goal for the Rangers came just 10 seconds into the game, the fastest goal for the Rangers since the 1985 season. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Eichel extended his point streak to 16 consecutive games, making it the fourth longest in Buffalo Sabres franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • The Wild have earned a point in 12 consecutive home games, the second-longest streak in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Brad Marchand hit the 50-point mark for the season, the first Bruins player since Adam Oates during the 1995-96 season to reach that mark in 34 or fewer games. [NHL PR]
  • Marc-Edouard Vlasic played in his 1,000th career game on Saturday night, making him the 340th player in NHL history to reach that milestone. [San Jose Sharks]
  • Foegele’s two goals for the Hurricanes both came while shorthanded, making him the fifth Hurricanes player to ever accomplish that in a game. [NHL PR]

Scores

Ottawa Senators 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT)
New York Islanders 3, Buffalo Sabres 2 (OT)
Anaheim Ducks 4, New York Rangers 3 (SO)
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Calgary Flames 0
Dallas Stars 4, Nashville Predators 1
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Edmonton Oilers 1
Minnesota Wild 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Detroit Red Wings 2, Montreal Canadiens 1
Washington Capitals 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Boston Bruins 4, Florida Panthers 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Los Angeles Kings 4 (SO)
New Jersey Devils 2, Arizona Coyotes 1
St. Louis Blues 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3
San Jose Sharks 4, Vancouver Canucks 2

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.

Devils give Nasreddine first win as Taylor Hall trade watch continues

Devils Taylor Hall Trade Watch
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For the second game in a row the New Jersey Devils held star forward Taylor Hall out of the lineup as they continue to work toward a trade.

They were still able to give interim coach Alain Nasreddine his first win as an NHL coach by defeating the Arizona Coyotes, 2-1, thanks to a late goal from Kyle Palmieri.

Entering play on Saturday the Devils had been 0-4-1 since firing John Hynes and replacing him with Nasreddine.

The win also snapped a seven-game losing streak.

The big story, though, continues to be where Hall ends up as trade talks continue between the Devils and several teams around the league. Trade speculation has followed Hall and the Devils all season and reached a boiling point on Friday night when he was made a late scratch in Colorado for what the team called “precautionary” reasons. The fact he did not play again on Saturday seems to further drive home the point that a trade could be imminent.

At this point it simply a matter of where he ends up.

While the Avalanche remain the odds on favorite to land him, several other teams have reportedly emerged as possible destinations. One of those potential teams: Saturday’s opponent in Arizona.

Other teams that have been rumored to be interested include St. Louis, Florida, and Edmonton.

The Coyotes are an intriguing option because it would be a pretty clear sign that they are ready to try and win right now. Even with Saturday’s loss to the Devils they remain in first place in the Pacific Division and are off to one of their starts in years. They have a good young roster, but are still lacking impact forwards. Phil Kessel was supposed to help address that over the summer, but he is off to a slow start (only one even-strength goal) and has not yet been a difference-maker.

Adding Hall would be a huge win for the Coyotes not only because of the impact to their own roster, but it would also keep him away from a division rival In Edmonton.

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.

 

Blackhawks self destruct, blow 3-goal third period lead to Blues

Blackhawks Blues third period rally
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Just when it looked like the Chicago Blackhawks had hit rock bottom they found a way to keep digging.

Their disastrous three-game road trip came to a brutal end on Saturday night in St. Louis when they allowed a three-goal lead with 16 minutes to play turn into a 4-3 regulation loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.

The meltdown began when St. Louis’ Tyler Bozak scored just 30 seconds after Patrick Kane had given the Blackhawk a 3-0 lead, capitalizing on a terrible turnover by Alex Nylander.

The Blues completed the comeback with three goals in the final six minutes of regulation, including a pair of goals just 12 seconds apart to tie the game.

Just three minutes after that sequence Justin Faulk scored his second goal of the season for the game-winner.

1. The Blackhaws’ problems remain the same

It’s the defensive zone play. It has been the defensive zone play. It continues to be the defensive zone play.

At times the Blackhawks look like a team that has never had to play in the defensive zone before. Turnovers, missed assignments, blown assignments, and just about every possible defensive calamity that can happen to a team in the defensive zone happens to this team on a near nightly basis. All of that was on display in the final 16 minutes on Saturday and it once again left their goalie — in this case Corey Crawford — all by himself on an island.

2. Where they stand now

In last place in the Central Division and next-to-last place in the entire Western Conference, just one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. Needless to say, that is a brutal position for a team with one of the league’s largest payrolls to be in.

They are 3-8-2 in their past 13 games (only one of those wins in regulation), are nine points out of the second Wild Card spot and 12 points back of the top-three teams in the Central Division.

They were outscored by a 14-6 margin on their three-game trip that took them through Arizona, Vegas, and St. Louis.

At this point the season is not only getting away from them, it appears to be completely gone.

3. What happens next?

This is the type of stretch, and this is the type of game, that leads to change.

Or at least starts the ball rolling toward change.

Head coach Jeremy Colliton has been on the job for just one year, and firing him that quickly after he replaced a future Hall of Fame, three-time Stanley Cup winning coach would make it seem like the Blackhawks don’t really have much of a plan and don’t really know what they’re doing.

But do you know what? Maybe they don’t know what they’re doing, and maybe they don’t have a plan. General manager Stan Bowman gambled big on his core and that its strong second half a year ago was a sign of what the team was still capable of. That it maybe just needed a few tweaks to compete again. With every passing game this season, and with every defensive meltdown that seems worse than the previous one, it is becoming increasingly clear this team just isn’t very good and the right changes were not made.

In the end something is very wrong with this team and there does not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel.

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.

 

Duclair’s revenge: Hat trick leads Senators over Tortorella, Blue Jackets

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Anthony Duclair knows how to play the game. He proved that to John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.

Duclair scored three goals in the Ottawa Senators’ 4-3 win — including the game winner in the video above — and was able to get some small amount of revenge against his former team and coach.

It’s such a big day for Duclair because it was a little less than a year ago that he was the focal point of Tortorella’s public wrath. In late February Tortorella ripped Duclair by saying, among other things, that he didn’t know if he knew how to play the game, while also referring to his play as being “off the rails.”

The focal point of the criticism centered around Duclair’s situational play away from the puck. Three days later the Blue Jackets sent him to Ottawa in a trade for Ryan Dzingel.

Fresh start for Duclair

Duclair’s game has started to blossom offensively since arriving in Ottawa. With his three-goal effort on Saturday he is up to 18 goals in 33 games this season. No player on the Blue Jackets has more than 10 goals.

He also has 26 goals in 53 games with the Senators since the trade.

Duclair is a fascinating player because he is still only 24 years old and is already playing for his fifth different organization. While he may still have some improvements to make away from the puck, there is no denying his talent level with it, while he consistently averages a 20-goal pace per 82 games. He is now on pace for more than 40 goals this season.

A smart team should be able to find a use for him, and right now the Senators are.

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.