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Signing Laine and other Jets cap challenges after Wheeler extension

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The Winnipeg Jets answered a big question on Tuesday by signing captain and star winger Blake Wheeler to a five-year, $41.25 million extension. That removes a huge item from the franchise’s to-do list, yet they face plenty of challenges in keeping this talent-packed roster together for the long haul.

Much of the future worries come down to extending Patrik Laine, but there are other considerations that can make an impact on this loaded team’s ability to contend.

Winnipeg’s cap questions are pretty involved, so let’s go step by step.

(Note via Cap Friendly’s numbers: Winnipeg has about $10.24M in cap space as of this writing. They have about $52.48M committed to 11 players heading into 2019-20, which would give them a bit more than $27M to work with in the unlikely event that the cap would remain at $79.5M.)

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GM Kevin Cheveldayoff faces one more big obstacle for 2018-19: hashing out a contract with RFA defenseman Josh Morrissey.

Right now, the tone seems to be “don’t panic,” even though training camp is rapidly approaching.

The Jets are running some risky business when it comes to their young defensemen.

Jacob Trouba may just become hockey’s answer to Kirk Cousins: a player either forced to or willingly choosing to make short-term bets on himself with the goal of a big payday in the future. Winnipeg is lucky enough that, despite that arduous arbitration hearing, Trouba would only be considered an RFA if he makes it to next summer without a deal. Still, it’s tough to shake the impression that the situation will end with Trouba eventually playing for a different NHL team, much like Cousins ultimately left Washington.

Winnipeg must walk a fine line with two young defensemen (Trouba’s 24, Morrissey is 23). It’s easy to see why Morrissey would prefer a “bridge” contract, particularly considering the defensemen who may be forced out with the cap crunch.

Beyond the Trouba turmoil, Tyler Myers‘ contract ends after 2018-19, with both of those defensemen carrying $5.5M cap hits. Morrissey could goose his numbers by naturally earning more minutes next season, but especially so in the likely event that Myers can’t fit under the cap.

Then again, the added security of term could be quite appealing if the Jets decide that Morrissey is worthy of a Noah Hanifin-ish commitment.

(Goalie Eric Comrie is also an RFA in need of a deal.)

While Morrissey’s situation is unsettled, the Jets made substantial investments in other players, for better or worse:

Long-term commitments: the very good, and the troubling

Whether they end up being wise or imprudent investments, Cheveldayoff committed to some serious term in recent (and semi-recent) situations.

Wheeler’s cap hit goes from $5.6M next season to $8.25M starting in 2019-20. As of this writing, he’s a bargain at both rates, but the unavoidable concern is for regression, considering that the American-born forward is already 32. (He’ll be 33 right before his extension kicks in.)

The Jets also made an interesting bet on young goalie Connor Hellebuyck, handing the 25-year-old a six-year contract that carries a $6.167M AAV. It says a lot about how perception can change in a year, as the Jets signed Steve Mason to a fairly healthy two-year, $8M deal heading into 2017-18 thanks to the uncertainty they still faced in net. If Hellebuyck replicates (or at least produces work close to) his strong, steady season, then that cap hit could be a nice bargain. Goalies are risky, though, and the Jets ended up regretting Ondrej Pavelec’s rancid contract for basically its entirety. Maybe the Hellebuyck contract is “the price of doing business,” but that bill could create some buyer’s remorse if last year was a mirage.

Overall, the Jets boast eight lengthy commitments (three years or more) at significant rates* as of this writing: Wheeler, Hellebuyck, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, and Adam Lowry.

Scheifele’s $6.125M ranks on the shortlist of the absolute best bargains in the NHL, especially since it runs for six more seasons. If the Jets manage to wade through this jungle of cap challenges, credit that Scheifele bargain and also locking down Ehlers at an affordable (and potentially steal-worthy) $6M long-term as two key developments.

Some of the veterans might provide problems, though. Little’s been a hidden gem through even the Atlanta Thrashers days, yet the 30-year-old’s $5.292M cap hit already looks dicey, and it runs through 2023-24. Little’s contract may force out a valuable-yet-not-essential player like Perreault, who virtually always shines from an analytics standpoint, and does so at a reasonable $4.125M clip.

Winnipeg’s cap crunch could force out some combination of Little, Perreault, or Lowry, while Dmitry Kulikov may force some LTIR shenanigans.

(Hey, at least other contenders have set a template for how Winnipeg could … “bend some rules.”)

* – Sorry, Tucker Poolman, whose name will forever sound like a fake handle for someone in a fantasy league.

Aiming for raises

All of the situations above bleed into the Jets’ biggest worries: what’s next to come.

Patrik Laine’s rookie contract expires after next season, and Winnipeg can sign him to an extension at any time. Laine already scored 80 goals and 134 points in just 155 games, and it’s tough to imagine his standing in the league falling after 2018-19. The Jets essentially have to hope that Laine will fall in line with other rising stars who’ve signed for relative discounts, as his RFA status only means so much.

Laine is the biggest ticket item, but far from the only player who could rake in big bucks.

Kyle Connor represents a potentially tricky situation. After a minimal, truncated rookie season (5 points in 20 games in 2016-17), Connor broke through last year, managing 31 goals and 57 points.

If you’re Winnipeg, you probably would prefer to sign him to a reasonable extension instead of letting him flirt with even bigger totals in 2018-19, considering that only seven of his 31 goals came on the power play. (Though, to be fair, Connor received pretty healthy reps.)

With Trouba’s situation merely postponed for a year and Morrissey possibly only getting a bridge deal, the Jets could still face some big calls with key players. That’s especially true if management views re-signing Tyler Myers as a necessity rather than a luxury.

***

Overall, the Jets need to try to find value in the next deals for Laine and Connor, while making the right calls with Morrissey and Trouba.

While contenders such as the Chicago Blackhawks have shown that you can get out of a bad deal or two, they’ve also cemented the notion that you might end up regretting being loyal to the wrong players. The Jets handed out no-trade or no-movement clauses to veterans such as Wheeler, Byfuglien, Little, Kulikov and Perreault, which may only complicate matters.

For a GM who inspired puns about “taking the day off,” Kevin Cheveldayoff sure has his work cut out for him.

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.

Blackhawks lose 8th game in a row on comical Hurricanes goal

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Heading into an emotional return to Carolina, Cam Ward was the focus of Monday’s Blackhawks – Hurricanes game. Ward didn’t get the last laugh as he faced his old team, yet it was Brent Seabrook who absorbed most of the mockery.

While Ward was on the ice trying in vain to stop Sebastian Aho from scoring the 3-2 overtime winner, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you kept your eyes trained on Ward … or Aho alone, for that matter. Instead, make sure you watch Seabrook during that decisive goal, and there are high odds that you’ll get a good laugh.

(Unless you’re a Chicago Blackhawks fan. Fans tend to miss the humor in eight-game losing streaks.)

This is one of those instances where you should stick it out deeper into the video, as the best angles of Seabrook’s unintentionally funny defense crop up around the 30-ish second mark:

When someone gets faked out, you might hear a Jeremy Roenick talk about a jock strap being sent to the bleachers. In Seabrook’s case, it looked more like a sleepy person fumbling aimlessly to silence an alarm clock.

That moment of levity was just part of a rocky night for Seabrook.

The Blackhawks built a 2-0 lead, yet former Chicago forward Teuvo Teravainen began the comeback with a power-play goal after Seabrook was whistled for delay of game. Seabrook also drew the ire of Jordan Martinook by boarding Hurricanes rookie Andrei Svechnikov:

Ward wasn’t able to protect that lead and gain a win against his former team, but the Hurricanes still embraced their longtime goalie, including rolling with the type of tribute video you’d expect:

The Blackhawks were on a five-game losing streak when they fired Joel Quenneville. So far, new head coach Jeremy Colliton hasn’t enjoyed the honeymoon period that a team often experiences after such a change, as he’s 0-for-3 in trying to get his first win as an NHL head coach.

You can forgive Cam Ward for wondering if he’s shuffled off from a playoff drought with the Hurricanes to what could be a painful stretch for his new team in the Blackhawks.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Fight: Jamie Benn’s vicious bout with Josh Anderson

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In the rare moments when a star player fights, you usually grade them on a scale. You don’t really need to do that with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars.

The big winger isn’t afraid to drop the gloves, and he’s done so with some big names – and big humans – such as Dustin Byfuglien. Benn engaged in another frightful fight on Monday, as Benn and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson were throwing bombs.

(You can watch that fight – which seems like it’s going to end quickly, but then just keeps going – in the video above this post’s headline.)

Earlier this season, Benn fought with New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood. Benn’s already matched his two fights from 2017-18 (vs. Byfuglien and Corey Perry). Considering we’re not even halfway through November yet, this could be an awfully ornery season for Benn.

You have to wonder if he’s tempting fate a bit – you’d call Benn’s hands soft when they’re not landing haymakers – in risking injuries with these fights. You can’t debate that by losing his temper, Benn’s leaving the ice for long stretches (decisions that can be especially onerous if he gets additional penalties).

On the other hand, hockey’s a rough sport, and perhaps being so physical helps Benn stay engaged?

Selfishly speaking, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to see him keep up this habit, as it’s quite the spectacle. Nothing will top his fight with Joe Thornton from many moons ago, which set the stage for a photo that would make for a great Fathead-style wall-sized poster:

via Getty

Classic.

Despite playing in different conferences, this game has had the nastiness of a heated divisional rivalry. You could see it in moments beyond Benn’s fight, particularly when Seth Jones was whistled for a nasty hit on Jason Dickinson.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Ward’s return to Carolina, Kesler vs. Johansen highlight Monday schedule

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There are only four games on the NHL schedule Monday night, but they feature a couple of intriguing storylines worth watching.

First, in Carolina, former long-time Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward will be making his return as a visiting player for the first time when he is expected to the start for the Chicago Blackhawks. He will be trying to help them snap their seven-game losing streak and get them their first win under new head coach Jeremy Colliton.

Ward did not play when the two teams met in Chicago (a 4-3 Hurricanes win) this past week.

Ward is certain to get a warm welcome, and already did when he first arrived in the arena on Monday.

Ward’s time with the Hurricanes is a complicated one.

On one hand, he spent 13 years as the primary starting goalie for the team. That is, to say the least, a long-time, and there are not many goalies that spend that much with one franchise. So it is always going to be a big deal when — or if — they return as a visiting player. But goaltending was a constant thorn in the Hurricanes’ side during Ward’s time with the team and that is usually what his time there is remembered for to everyone outside of Raleigh.

But, he is still a significant part of the team’s history for helping the Hurricanes win their first and only championship during the 2005-06 season. And he played a huge role in that title.

Ward was a rookie during the 2005-06 season, and even though he only appeared in 28 games during the regular season, he was a rock for the team in the playoffs with a .920 save percentage, picking up 15 of the team’s 16 wins during the postseason. That run included two shutouts, including one in the Stanley Cup Final, as he took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

The Hurricanes only made the playoffs one other time during Ward’s tenure with the team (a trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009 when they were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins).

But banners hang forever, and thanks in large part to Ward’s contributions as a rookie the Hurricanes have one.

That should never be forgotten if you are a Hurricanes fan, no matter what happened after that.

The other intriguing game on the Monday schedule is in Anaheim where the Ducks are hosting the NHL-leading Nashville Predators.

The intrigue here isn’t so much with the game itself, because, quite honestly, it looks to be a rather one-sided matchup on paper. Nashville is rolling — again — while the Ducks are going in the complete opposite direction and trending toward the bottom of the league.

What stands out with this one is it could be another chapter in the ongoing personal feud between Predators center Ryan Johansen and Ducks center Ryan Kesler. They do not like each other. At all.

For a quick refresher, refer back to this August post from our Sean Leahy highlighting the feud that was continued with this Tweet from Kesler over the summer.

Things really escalated between the two during the 2017 Western Conference Final (which Johansen and the Predators won) and consisted of some back-and-forth trash talk between the two.

Among the highlights:

Johansen to Kesler: “Nobody likes you”

And…

Johansen on Kesler: “I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that.”

And…

Kesler on Johansen: “He’s not my friend. He’s not going to be my friend. He can say whatever he wants.”

So there is that little backstory.

Kesler, who was limited to just 44 games a season ago due to injury, only played in one of the Ducks’ three games against the Predators so we really have not seen them have a chance to renew their relationship on the ice since that Western Conference Final series.

In the one game they did face each other since then the two spent five minutes on the ice together and, of course, got into a fight late in the second period.

Referees Gord Dwyer and Jake Brenk, as well as linesmen Darren Gibbs and Brian Murphy, will be the ones in charge of trying to maintain order between the two on Monday night.

 

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Campbell injury adds to Kings’ frustrating season

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Nothing is going right for the Los Angeles Kings this season.

Already stuck with the league’s worst record and having just fired their coach, the team announced on Monday that goalie Jack Campbell will be sidelined for the next four-to-six weeks due to a torn meniscus.

Rookie Cal Petersen has been recalled from the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League to take his place.

This is problematic for the Kings because Campbell has taken over the starting goaltending duties while regular starter Jonathan Quick continues to recover from his own meniscus injury that has sidelined him since Oct. 23.

Not only had Campbell taken over the starting role, he has been one of the few bright spots on the team during this otherwise abysmal start. As of Monday, he had a .923 save percentage on the season and had been especially good in November with a .939 save percentage in his past five appearances. That includes a 35-save effort over the weekend when he lost a tough-luck 1-0 decision to the Calgary Flames.

[Related: Kings’ problems run far deeper than their coach]

Now he is out, too, and a team that is 31st in the league in goal scored (only 2.06 goals per game) is going to have to rely on an unproven rookie that has yet to play an NHL game, and a 36-year-old Peter Budaj to keep the puck out of their own net.

Budaj has appeared in just one game this season for the Kings, stopping 10 out of 11 shots.

Petersen, meanwhile, was originally a fifth-round draft pick by the Buffalo Sabres in 2013 and was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent in July, 2017. He signed with the Kings after an incredibly successful collegiate career at Notre Dame, and in his first year of pro hockey finished the 2017-18 season with a .910 save percentage for Ontario.

So far this season his play has dropped off considerably as he had just an .881 save percentage in his first 10 games.

In other words: Good luck, Willie Desjardins. You are going to need it.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.