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Why It Clicked: NHLers explain their career seasons

September is here and opening night of the 2018-19 NHL season is three weeks away, which means everything resets. What happened last season doesn’t matter and players’ sole focus now is to try and look forward and either build off 2017-18 or completely forget it in some cases.

At the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago last week, Pro Hockey Talk spoke to four players who enter this season coming off career years offensively. We wanted to know from them why it all came together last season.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: 34 goals, 68 assists, 102 points

A huge reason why Giroux had the year that he did was that he was attached to the hip of Sean Couturier. Moving to the wing, the Flyers captain spent over 80 percent of his time at even strength with Couturier, per Dobber Hockey, which resulted in both forwards posting offensive bests.

“I think it was a little bit of everything,” he said. “Being able to go on the wing and have a new position… at first I was a little uncomfortable, but after a few preseason games and regular season games you get in a rhythm. Being able to play with Coots, he’s a very smart player. We just had that chemistry going.”

It was a competitive year for the Hart Trophy, and while a case could have been made for Giroux winning MVP, he ended up finishing fourth in the voting by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: 39 goals, 54 assists, 93 points

The Devils returned to the postseason for the first time in six years, thanks heavily in part to Hall carrying the team on his back during the second half. Fully comfortable in his new settings, the 26-year-old forward recorded points on a regular basis, with his play resulting in the franchise being able to tout its first Hart Trophy winner.

[Hall not expecting complacency from Devils]

A newfound partnership with the 2017 No. 1 overall pick helped and there was likely some motivation to continue sticking it to the Edmonton Oilers’ brass, who dealt him away in a surprise trade in 2016 — a decision that Hall said made him feel “slighted.”

“We added a lot more talent to our team and we became a team that really played fast and really played tenacious,” Hall said last week. “I think that my game meshed perfectly with the team and [I] found some really good chemistry with Nico [Hischier] and then from there, I don’t know if a 26-game point streak is ever going to happen again. It was just one of those things that happened. As far as being a successful player, a successful offensive player, I have no doubt that I can do that [this season] for the Devils. I’m excited to see what happens.”

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: 39 goals, 58 assists, 97 points

When you’re good friends with Sidney Crosby and spend your summers working out with one of the NHL’s best, you tend to pick up a thing or two. For MacKinnon, it was only a matter of time before he took the next step in his development following back-to-back 50-point seasons. With some better talent around him on a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, 2018-19 was his year.

It all paid off as MacKinnon finished second in the Hart voting behind Hall as he helped the Avalanche back into the postseason.

“Experience. Just being my fifth year in the league, I got more comfortable with myself and my game,” he said. “It was all mental. I might have gotten a little bit better with my physical tools but nothing too drastic for the jump ahead. It was more mental.”

Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers: 31 goals, 44 assists, 75 points

The one constant for Trocheck for most of last season was Jonathan Huberdeau, who would score 27 goals. Spending a lot of time next to Huberdeau, Trocheck would take advantage of a bump in ice time and not pass up many opportunities to shoot en route to personal bests offensively.

The Pittsburgh native would also make good use of power play time, leading the team with 13 PPGs and 27 points with the man advantage.

“There was a lot of opportunity last year. I think a lot of it has to do with that,” Trocheck said. “The way the team was playing the first half of the year, I kind of had to take the onus on myself to take that extra step. And there’s a few of us, [Aleksander] Barkov, Huberdeau, guys like that, who stepped it up as well offensively. It was just a matter of clicking with each other, and I think there was a lot more chemistry.”

MORE: NHL Player Media Tour 2018 Notebook

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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.

Golden Knights sign defenseman Engelland to one-year deal

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LAS VEGAS (AP) The Vegas Golden Knights signed defenseman Deryk Engelland on Tuesday to a one-year deal for the upcoming season.

The contract includes a $700,000 base salary and incentives that could bring the total value of the deal to $1.5 million.

The 37-year-old Engelland played in 74 games last season and finished with 12 points and 18 penalty minutes. He set career-marks with 152 blocked shots and 165 hits.

The Knights took Engelland during the 2017 expansion draft.

The team also acquired goaltender Garret Sparks from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forward David Clarkson and a fourth-round selection in the 2020 NHL entry draft.

Trade: Clarkson contract back to Toronto; Vegas opens up space

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Nostalgia is in the air, as “The Lion King” remake is in theaters, so maybe it’s time to cue “The Circle of Life.”

In a peculiar bit of salary cap management, David Clarkson – er, David Clarkson’s contract – and the Toronto Maple Leafs are back together again. While Garret Sparks goes to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Maple Leafs receive a fourth-round pick for their troubles.

Maple Leafs get: Clarkson’s contract ($5.25M for one more season), Vegas 2020 fourth-round pick.

Golden Knights receive: Cap relief even though they were going to send Clarkson to LTIR; a decent goalie consideration with Garret Sparks.

This is all about cap and asset management for both teams.

Clarkson was headed to LTIR whether his contract stayed in Vegas or matriculated to Toronto, and now his deal can be neighbors with Nathan Horton after they were exchanged. The Maple Leafs still have some work to do, naturally, as they need to fit Mitch Marner into the mix. The numbers might melt your brain a bit.

The Golden Knights still need to sort out their own issues with Nikita Gusev lingering as a fascinating RFA, and that resolution hasn’t come yet. In the meantime, or maybe instead, the Golden Knights took advantage of extra wiggle room to bring back veteran (and Vegas-loving) defenseman Deryk Engelland for a cheap deal.

Depth goaltending also buzzed around these moves.

Again, Sparks represents an interesting consideration for Vegas, as Malcolm Subban hasn’t been an unqualified solution as Marc-Andre Fleury‘s backup. Perhaps Sparks would end up prevailing after both of their contracts expire following the 2019-20 season?

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs opened up room for a depth option as well, as they confirmed that Michal Neuvirth has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

It kind of makes you want to dig up that Charlie Kelly mailroom conspiracy board to try to cover all the ins and outs, but the bigger picture takeaway is that the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights continue to work on their cap conundrums, and this trade was really just another step in the process.

At least it was a pretty odd and funny step, though.

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.

Predators are being bold with term; are they being smart?

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If nothing else, the Nashville Predators aren’t afraid to be bold.

In a vacuum, the Colton Sissons signing isn’t something that will make or break the Predators’ future. That seven-year, $20 million contract has inspired some fascinating debates, but the most interesting questions arise around GM David Poile’s larger team building, and his courageous decisions.

As we’ve seen, Poile doesn’t just lock up obvious core players to term, he frequently gives supporting cast players unusual security, too.

This signing seems like a good excuse to dive into the Predators’ biggest offseason decisions, and also ponder maybe the biggest one of all: what to do with captain Roman Josi, whose bargain contract will only last for one more season.

The interlocking P.K. Subban, Matt Duchene, Roman Josi situation

By any reasonable estimate, the Predators got hosed in getting such a small return for Subban in that deal with the Devils.

Of course, the Predators’ goal wasn’t necessarily to get a great return for Subban, but instead to get rid of Subban’s $9M to (most directly) sign Matt Duchene, and maybe eventually provide more leeway to extend Josi.

There was some argument to trading away Subban, as at 30, there’s a risk that his $9M AAV could become scary.

The thing is, the Predators only seemed to expose themselves to greater risks. It remains to be seen if Matt Duchene will be worth $8M, even right away, and he’s already 28. Roman Josi turned 29 in June, so if Josi’s cap hit is comparable to Subban’s — and it could be a lot higher if Josi plays the market right — then the Predators would take even bigger risks on Josi. After all, Josi’s next contract will begin in 2020-21, while Subban’s is set to expire after 2021-22.

So, in moving on from Subban to Duchene and/or Josi, the Predators are continuing to make big gambles that they’re right. Even if Subban really was on the decline, at least his deal isn’t going on for that much longer. Nashville’s instead chosen one or maybe two even riskier contracts at comparable prices, really rolling the dice that they’re not painting themselves into a corner.

There’s also the scenario where Josi leaves Nashville, and things could get pretty dizzying from there.

Even if you look at it as a Matt Duchene for P.K. Subban trade alone, that’s not necessarily a guaranteed “win” for Nashville. It’s all pretty bold, though.

[This post goes into even greater detail about trading Subban, and the aftermath.]

Lots of term

Nashville doesn’t have much term locked in its goalies Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros, which is wise, as goalies are very tough to predict. Those risks are instead spread out to a considerable number of skaters, and Poile’s crossing his fingers that he’s going to find the sweet spot with veterans, rather than going all that heavy on youth.

The long-term plan has frequently been fruitful for the Predators, as Viktor Arvidsson ($4.25M for five more seasons) and Filip Forsberg ($6M for three more seasons) rank as some of the best bargains in the NHL. Josi’s $4M is right up there, though that fun ride ends after 2019-20.

Your mileage varies when you praise the overall work, though, because some savings are offset by clunkers. It stings to spend $10.1M in combined cap space on Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino, especially since $16M for Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen ranks somewhere between “the price of doing business” and “bad.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

So that’s the thing with locking down supporting cast members. It’s nice to have a defensive forward who seemingly moves the needle like Colton Sissons seems to do …

… Yet is he a bit of an extravagance at $2.857M per year? Again, that’s a matter of debate.

The uncomfortable truth is that, if the Predators are wrong about enough of these deals, then it’s that much tougher to wiggle your way out of mistakes. Yes, maybe the Predators can move Sissons if he slides, but you risk falling behind the pack if you lose value propositions too often.

Will that be the case with the Predators? We’ll have to wait and see, and the most fascinating test cases come down the line. If it doesn’t work out next year, in particular, then things could pretty uncomfortable, pretty quickly.

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.

Sissons, Predators agree to seven-year, $20 million deal

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We see long-term deals with high annual average values.

We see short-term deals with lower annual average values.

But rarely do we see long-term deals with low annual average values. Like less than $3 million low.

Yet, despite the rarity of such a pact, David Poile and the Nashville Predators have become some sort of trendsetters in getting plays to sign lengthy deals worth a pittance annually.

Colton Sissons becomes the second in the past three years to sign on with the Predators long-term at a small AVV. Sissons new deal, avoiding arbitration, is a seven-year contract worth $20 million — an AAV of $2.85 million.

“Colton will be an important part of our team for the next seven seasons, and we are happy he has made a long-term commitment to our organization and the city the Nashville,” Poile said. “He’s a heart and soul player who is versatile and can fill many important roles on our team, including on the penalty kill and power play. His offensive production has increased each season, and he remains an integral part of our defensive structure down the middle of the ice. Colton is also an up-and-coming leader in our organization, which is something we value strongly.”

Poile seems to have no issue signing depth guys to lengthy deals. In 2016, he signed Calle Jarnkork to a six-year deal worth $12 million. In fact, he’s the only general manager to pull of such moves.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Both players have chosen security over maximizing earning potential.

Sissons, 25, had a career-year last season, scoring 15 goals and 30 points in 75 games.

His AAV is in the ballpark of what was projected. Evolving Wild’s model had him making $2.65 million. What wasn’t foreseen is that term.

EW’s model projected a three-year contract for Sissons with a 30.2 percent probability of coming to fruition. But what percentage of chance did EW give a seven-year contract? 0.4 percent.

Anything is possible, kids.


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