Who needs a fresh start in 2019?

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New Year’s Day is right around the corner, so naturally many of us have already started thinking about our resolutions. Maybe you want to get into better shape, eat better, expand your knowledge on a certain topic, spend less time on your phone, or something totally different.

Hockey people and teams are just like us. They need a reset, too. So who’s most looking forward to Jan. 1 in the NHL?

Corey Crawford – Chicago Blackhawks: It’s been a really tough year for the Blackhawks netminder. The 34-year-old played in just 28 games last season because of a concussion. He managed to return to the lineup in October, but he’s now sidelined by another concussion. It’s hard not to feel sorry for him, and you have to wonder if the end is near for the veteran. We hope 2019 brings a lot more health to Crawford and we hope to see him back on the ice really soon.

Eugene Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators: It’s been a bad 12 months for the owner of the Sens. This snowball started rolling downhill last December, when he mentioned the possibility of relocating and it’s just gotten worse and worse for his franchise. Hopefully 2019 is filled with a lot less drama for Melnyk, GM Pierre Dorion and the rest of the Senators organization. From the situation between Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman to Uber-gate, the Sens were the organization that kept on giving when it came to headlines. But even we have to acknowledge that this is getting ridiculous. All the best in 2019, Ottawa.

Peter Chiarelli – Edmonton Oilers: Do I really have to explain this one? Chiarelli tried shuffling the duck with a pair of trades over the weekend, but that won’t calm the waters in Edmonton. He absolutely needs to push the right buttons so that his team can get their season back on the rails as soon as possible. The Oilers are still only four points out of a Wild Card spot, but they’re also just six points away from last place in the West.

Kyle Okposo – Buffalo Sabres: Okposo has failed to pick up a single point since late November. That’s right. He hasn’t scored or picked up an assist at all during the month of December. 14 games without any production is a long time for any player, especially one that makes $6 million per year. Okposo also had a significant injury scare last year, when he battled a concussion.

Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov – Philadelphia Flyers: After making the playoffs last season, the Flyers were expected to be back in the postseason this year, too. Unfortunately for them, things haven’t panned out that way. Goaltending has always been an issue for them, but in-zone coverage hasn’t been great either. They definitely expected more from their two young defenders. If this dynamic duo doesn’t figure things out soon, the Flyers will be watching the playoffs on television.

Dallas Stars: Alright, team president Jim Lites made some serious comments regarding Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Whether you agree with them or not, it’s time for the Stars to live up to their potential. They may not be the deepest teams, but there’s no denying that there’s talent on that roster. They all just need to regroup and find a way to grab one of playoff spots at their disposal.

William Nylander – Toronto Maple Leafs: Nylander didn’t report to training camp this year and he also sat out until December because of a contract dispute. Since his return to the lineup, he’s picked up just two assists in 11 games, and they both came in the same game. We know how talented the 22-year-old is, now he just needs to get up to speed with the rest of his teammates. All he needs is a little more time.

Karl Alzner – Montreal Canadiens: After signing a lucrative free-agent contract in the summer of 2017, Alzner found himself as a healthy scratch pretty regularly in the first half of the season. Then, to make matters even worse, the Canadiens assigned him to their AHL affiliate in Laval. Alzner has since been recalled, but he still doesn’t appear to fit in his team’s plans. A fresh start somewhere else may help him, but he’s just not built for this new NHL.

James Neal – Calgary Flames: Neal decided to leave Vegas to join Calgary on July 1st, but that decision is looking shockingly bad right now. The Flames gave the veteran winger a five-year, $28.75 million deal this summer, only to watch it blow up in their face so far. Neal has three goals and four assists in 38 games, and he hasn’t scored since Nov. 1 (24 games). Although he got a fresh start in Calgary a few months ago, it sure looks like he needs another one.

Tuukka Rask – Boston Bruins: The 2018-19 season has been a tough one for Rask. Not only did he have to leave the team for personal reasons earlier this year, he also hasn’t been very good on the ice. The Bruins made a nice move when they signed Jarolsav Halak last summer, but there’s no way they expected him to play as often as he has. Rask has to find a way to be more consistent if the Bruins are going to make a serious push in April and May.

Cory Schneider – New Jersey Devils: Not many NHLers had a worse calendar year than Schneider. Not only did he deal with some significant injuries, he also went all of 2018 without recording a victory, as he went 0-14-2 in 17 starts. Keith Kinkaid has done a nice job for the Devils, but they need their starting goaltender to play a much higher level.

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.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

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.

Donato gets two-year, $3.8 million extension from Wild

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Ryan Donato took advantage of a bigger opportunity with the Minnesota Wild and earned himself a raise on Tuesday.

The Wild announced that they have extended the 23-year-old Donato with a two-year, $3.8 million contract. That $1.9 million annual salary will be a bump from the $925,000 he made during the 2018-19 NHL season.

Following a February trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins, Donato saw his ice time rise over three minutes under Bruce Boudreau and that resulted in four goals and 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota. Unable to carve out his own role in Boston, Donato struggled offensively with six goals and nine points in 34 games before moving.

“I definitely learned the business side of it, for sure,” Donato said in April. “One thing I learned, in Boston and here, it’s a game of ups and downs. More than college, more than any level, there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the whole year, but definitely over the last couple months it’s settled down quite a bit.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Donato, who was a restricted free agent and will remain one when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, continued his production in the American Hockey League’s notching 11 points in 14 games between the end of the Iowa Wild’s regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about opportunity in this league,” Donato said. “If I can get myself into scoring positions playing with the high-end veteran players we have here, that have been known to find guys in scoring positions, then I’m a guy that can bury it.”

The Wild have high hopes for next season as they expect to be a playoff team coming out of what will be a very, very competitive Central Division. General manager Paul Fenton added Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello to boost the team’s offense which finished fourth-worst in the NHL in goals per game (2.56). Donato will be expected to be a key contributor.

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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.

Trade: Blackhawks send Anisimov to Senators for Zack Smith

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Artem Anisimov‘s name has been floating in trade speculation for more than a year now, and on Tuesday afternoon the Chicago Blackhawks finally moved him.

The Blackhawks announced they have traded Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for forward Zack Smith. It is a one-for-one deal that will probably make a bigger impact on both team’s financial situations than on the ice.

Both players are 31 years old, have two years remaining on their current contracts, and are coming off of somewhat similar seasons in terms of their performance. Anisimov scored 15 goals and 37 points in 78 games for the Blackhawks this past season, while Smith had nine goals and 28 points in 70 games for the Senators.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

So what is important here for both teams? Money, obviously.

For the Blackhawks, the Anisimov-for-Smith swap saves them a little more than $1 million against the salary cap as they go from Anisimov’s $4.5 salary cap hit to Smith’s $3.25 number. For a team that is consistently pressed against the cap and still has a ton of big-money players, every little bit of extra space helps. Especially as they have to work out new deals for Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome over the next year.

The Senators, meanwhile, had a different set of problems.

They were still sitting under the league’s salary floor before the trade and are now finally above it.

Anisimov’s contract not only gets them over the floor, but because the Blackhawks have already paid Anisimov’s signing bonus for this season the Senators actually owe him less in terms of actual salary, which is also probably an important factor for a team that is seemingly always in a cost-cutting and money-saving mode.

The Blackhawks have been extremely busy this offseason making multiple changes to their roster after a second straight non-playoff season. Along with acquiring Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan in trades to try and upgrade their defense, they also signed goalie Robin Lehner in free agency and brought back veteran forward Andrew Shaw.

This past week they traded former first-round pick defender Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres for Alex Nylander.

Related: Blackhawks shaping up as NHL’s biggest wild card

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.

Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

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When it comes to the NHL’s restricted free agent market this summer most of the attention has been directed at forwards Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, and Sebastian Aho. They are the stars, the big point-producers, and in the case of Aho, the rare player that actually received — and signed — an offer sheet from another team, only to have the Carolina Hurricanes quickly move to match it. For now, though, let’s shift the focus to the blue line where there are a few more big contracts still to be settled this summer with Jacob Trouba, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, and Ivan Provorov all waiting on new deals from their respective teams.

The two most intriguing players out of this group are Columbus’ Werenski and Boston’s McAvoy because they are already playing at an elite level among NHL defenders.

Just how good have they been?

Both are coming off of their age 21 seasons and have already demonstrated an ability to play at a top-pairing level on playoff caliber teams.

Since the start of the 2007-08 season there have only been four defenders that have hit all of the following marks through their age 21 season:

  • At least 100 games played
  • Averaged at least .50 points per game
  • And had a Corsi Percentage (shot-attempt differential) of greater than 52 percent at that point in their careers.

Those players have been Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Werenski, and McAvoy.

That is it.

Pretty elite company.

Based on that, it seems at least somewhat reasonable to look at the contracts Karlsson and Doughty received at the same point in their careers when they were coming off of their entry-level deals.

They were massive.

Karlsson signed a seven-year, $45.5 million deal with the Ottawa Senators, while Doughty signed an eight-year, $56 million contract. At the time, those contracts were worth around 10 percent of the league’s salary cap. A similarly constructed contract under today’s cap would come out to an annual cap hit of around $8 million dollars, which would be among the five highest paid defenders in the league.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Are Werenski and McAvoy worth similar contracts right now? They just might be.

The argument against it would be that while the overall performances are in the same ballpark, there are still some significant differences at play. Karlsson, for example, was coming off of a Norris Trophy winning season when he signed his long-term deal in Ottawa and was already on track to being one of the best offensive defensemen ever (he was already up to .68 points per game!). Doughty, meanwhile, was a significantly better defensive player than the other three and had already been a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

Neither Werenski or McAvoy has reached that level yet, while Werenski also sees a pretty significant drop in his performance when he is not paired next to Seth Jones, which could be a concern depending on how much value you put into such a comparison. It’s also worth pointing out that Jones sees a similar drop when he is not paired next to Werenski, and that the two are absolutely dominant when they are together.

But do those points outweigh the production and impact that Werenski and McAvoy have made, and the potential that they still possess in future years?

What they have already accomplished from a performance standpoint is almost unheard of for defenders of their age in this era of the league. It is also rare for any player of any level of experience.

Over the past three years only 15 other defenders have topped the 0.50 points per game and a 52 percent Corsi mark. On average, those players make $7 million per season under the cap, while only three of them — Roman Josi, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Erik Gustafsson — make less than $5 million per year. Josi is also due for a huge raise over the next year that will almost certainly move him into the $7-plus million range as well.

Bottom line is that the Blue Jackets and Bruins have top-pairing defenders on their hands that still have their best days in the NHL ahead of them. There is every reason to believe they are on track to be consistent All-Star level players and signing them to big deals right now, this summer, will probably turn out to be worth every penny.

Related: Bruins face salary cap juggling act with McAvoy, Carlo

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.