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NHL All-Star Media Day notebook: McDavid on doubters; Karlsson, Matthews talk contracts

SAN JOSE — You were out of luck if you were hoping to get a comment out of Connor McDavid regarding the Edmonton Oilers’ firing of general manager Peter Chiarelli this week.

“We’re here for the All-Star Game. I want to enjoy that as much as I can,” he said.

As the Oilers sit three points out of a Western Conference wild card spot, McDavid said he’s ready to push the negativity surrounding the franchise to the side and help the team make a playoff push.

“What I look forward to coming back from the break is trying our best to prove everyone wrong,” he said. “We have an opportunity here where things seem pretty down on us. There’s a sense of negativity with the media, with everyone around the team, and we get to prove people wrong. We get to decide how we’re going to finish the second half.”

Despite some talk (and hope in some cities) that McDavid was sick of the constant failures of the Oilers and would look to find a way out of Edmonton, he shot that idea down quickly.

“That’s just not the case at all,” he said. “I’m here to be a part of the solution, and that’s all I’ll say.”

The Oilers are a team that needed the All-Star break as a chance to get away and clear their heads. They’ve banked enough points, despite their issues, that the hole they’re currently in isn’t too deep. The captain is keeping the faith that the final 32 games of the season will be looked at in a positive light.

“You’ve got to believe,” McDavid said. “You have to believe that we’re going to turn it around and, like I said the other day, if you don’t, you don’t have to be here.

“Obviously, losing isn’t fun. It’s not fun for anybody. I’m no different. You want to win and you want to build something special and something that you’re proud to be a part of, and we’ve got to still build it.”

Matthews, Karlsson talk contracts

One’s set to become a restricted free agent, while the other can hit unrestricted status. Both will see rather large increases in their salary next season, it’s just matter of what the term and dollars look like.

“The sides are talking and making progress and that’s great,” said Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, who can become an RFA on July 1.

“I mean, I wouldn’t say [it’d be a] relief. I would say it’s just a step,” he said. “For me, it’s not something I think about much. When it gets done it gets done. Until then, I’m not worrying about it. I’ll let my agent handle it with [Leafs GM] Kyle [Dubas] and his management team. They’ll talk. When my agent calls and says I’m ready to sign, then I’ll sign. Until then I’m focusing on the Toronto Maple Leafs and just live every day.”

[NHL players express mixed feelings about player and puck tracking]

“We have no timetable on anything,” said San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson, who cannot sign an eight-year extension until after the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline. He has been eligible to ink a seven-year deal since Jan. 1. “Whatever goes on is going to be handled privately. [Sharks GM] Doug Wilson has been great with us ever since we got here. He’s been very respectful. I appreciate that a lot, both me and my wife do. When the time comes for a decision to be made, whenever that is, I think they’ve done everything they possibly can to give us the most information we need to make the right decision.  

“We came in here with an open mind, and I think we’re going to do everything we can to make the best possible decision for everyone, and especially ourselves with the information that we have at the time. They provided more than enough.”

Giroux on Flyers’ changes, Gritty

He’s the goalie of the future but may also end up as the goalie of the now depending on how the Flyers play out the rest of the season. Goaltender Carter Hart was reassigned back down to AHL Lehigh Valley this week but showed glimpses in 12 starts this season why the franchise thinks so highly of him.

“You don’t see a lot of goalies that are 20 years old and they come in this fast,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. “For him to get called up and do the things that he’s doing right now, it’s obviously not a circumstance that we wanted to happen. We had a few injuries for our goaltenders, but for him to come in, play the way he is right now, it’s pretty amazing.”

Hart’s NHL arrival was one of a number of changes for the team this season. Gone are GM Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol. Replacing them are Chuck Fletcher and, on an interim basis, Scott Gordon. Those changes acted as a wakeup call that Giroux believe the team needed.

“Yeah, when you see a coach or GM get fired, as a player you take it personally,” he said. “You’re responsible for it. You could have done something else to not let that happen. New GM, new coach, a lot of things are happening right now, but we’re going in the right direction.”

On the positive side, this has been the year of Gritty, the jovial mascot who is also trying to get Giroux to become its best friend.

“He is a big deal. I remember the first preseason game, he got booed and I think it was a big motivation for him to do better,” Giroux said. “He’s been shining still.”

Landeskog enjoying All-Star Weekend

The Colorado Avalanche’s top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are all in San Jose this weekend after a first half that put them in the conversation of who employs the best line in the NHL. The 26-year-old Landeskog is tied for third in goals scored (29) this season and despite his success didn’t expect to see himself taking part in the festivities.

“To be honest, I never really see myself as an All-Star. I think this popped out of nowhere. It’s the result of a good line and a team that’s been doing pretty good in the first half of the season,” he said. “An All-Star Game is always something that you keep an eye on and you always know who’s an All-Star in the league. But to say that I was expecting this, I’d be lying if I said that.”

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ONE-TIMERS

“It’s hard to not choose Connor McDavid. Just the way he skates, he’s faster than everybody else. His hands kind of follow his feet. He makes plays that not a lot of players can make.” – Giroux on who he thinks is the NHL’s best player.

“When you just come here, you’re just taking everything in, you’re not doing anything out of the ordinary, you’re just going with the flow. I think that’s what I did my first year. This year, I’m more comfortable knowing what to expect coming in and that’s important.” – Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones on taking part in his third straight All-Star Weekend.

“I like this layout…  The 3-on-3 format is nice because you can’t really hide. When you play 5-on-5 sometimes you get a little lazy. When it’s 3-on-3, you’ve gotta skate. If you don’t, you’ll get embarrassed, especially the talent that’s here. It forces you to play intense and I think that’s what the fans want to see.” – Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues on the 3-on-3 format.

“I wouldn’t say there’s anything that really jumps off the page. As you get closer, the little details start to come out a little bit more. In terms of that, there hasn’t even been any bargaining, any real discussions over what either side wants. It’s a little bit premature to have those talks.” – Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler on important facets of the next CBA from the players’ side.

“Every single day he’s the hardest worker on the ice, in the gym. First person at the rink, last person at the rink. He’s the ultimate captain. The success he’s having this year doesn’t surprise me one bit. He’s just a great leader and a great hockey player. I could talk about Gio for 10 straight minutes everything he does for our team, what he does for the community. It’s just awesome to be able to play for him and play with him and learn from him as a captain.” – Johnny Gaudreau on Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano.

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE:
NHL reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters
Pass or Fail: NHL’s eco-friendly 2019 All-Star Game jerseys
NHL announces 2019 All-Star game coaches

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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.

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 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.”

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

PHT Morning Skate: Hard cap hurt; Iginla talked Lucic into Flames move?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The hard salary cap is hurting the NHL’s brand. (Broad Street Hockey)

• With his name removed from the list, he’s the top 10 untradeable contracts after the Milan Lucic trade. (The Hockey News)

• Flames’ trade for Milan Lucic is inexplicable. (Yahoo Sports)

• The seven best free-agent deals signed in the NHL this summer. (Daily Hive)

• Ranking every NHL team by weight… a hefty ask. (Vancouver Courier)

• The Flames can blame (partly?) a franchise legend for helping sell Calgary to no-movement-clause Milan Lucic. (Sportsnet)

• Is there too much offense from the defense in today’s NHL? (TSN.ca)

• Stanley Cup-winning teams with the most Hall of Famers. (Featurd)

• The King always gets his way. (NHL.com)

• Part 1 of a look at the false sense of parity in the NHL. (Last Word on Hockey)

John Tavares is both healthy again and still upset his Maple Leafs got bounced by the Bruins in Round 1. (NHL.com)

• The best and worst moves from each Eastern Conference general manager. (The Score)

• What would an NHL team made up only of players from New York/New Jersey look like? (The Athletic)

• A look back on the Martin St. Louis trade and its impact. (Raw Charge)


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

Will coaching change be enough to give Ducks’ goalies some help?

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Since becoming the Anaheim Ducks’ starter, John Gibson has become one of the best goalies in the NHL.

For the first part of the 2018-19 season he was almost single-handedly carrying the team and helping to keep it at least somewhat competitive. He was not only in the Vezina Trophy discussion, but as long as the Ducks were winning he was a legitimate MVP contender. But for as good as Gibson performed, the entire thing was a house of cards that was always on the verge of an ugly collapse.

The Ducks couldn’t score, they couldn’t defend, they forced Gibson to take on a ridiculous workload in terms of shots and scoring chances against.

Eventually, everything fell apart.

Once Gibson started to wear down and could no longer steal games on a nightly basis, the team turned into one of the worst in the league despite having a top-10 goaltending duo. That is a shocking accomplishment because teams that get the level of goaltending the Ducks received from the Gibson-Ryan Miller duo usually make the playoffs.

How bad was it for the Ducks? They were one of only three teams in the top-15 in save percentage this past season that did not make the playoffs.

The only other teams in the top-15 that missed were the Montreal Canadiens, who were just two points back in a far better and more competitive Eastern Conference, and the Arizona Coyotes who were four points back in the Western Conference and the first team on the outside looking in.

The Ducks not only missed, they were 10 points short with FIVE teams between them and a playoff spot. Again, almost impossibly bad.

It is a testament to just how bad the rest of the team performed in front of the goalies, and it continued a disturbing trend from the 2018 playoffs when the Ducks looked completely overmatched against the San Jose Sharks in a four-game sweep. It was clear the team was badly flawed and was falling behind in a faster, more skilled NHL.

The problem for the Ducks right now is that so far this offseason the team has remained mostly the same.

They bought out the remainder of Corey Perry‘s contract, will be without Ryan Kesler, and have really not done anything else to change a roster that has not been anywhere near good enough the past two seasons.

That means it is going to be another sink-or-swim season for the Ducks based on how far the goaltending duo of Gibson and Miller can carry them.

It is a tough situation because the Ducks have made an absolutely massive commitment to Gibson as he enters the first year of an eight-year, $51.2 million contract.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That is a huge investment in a goalie, and for the time being, the Ducks have not really done anything to support him. Even if you have the best goalie in the league — or just one of the best — it is nearly impossible to win based only on that. Great goalies can help, they can mask a lot of flaws, and they can even carry a mediocre or bad team to the playoffs if they have a historically great season (think Carey Price during the 2014-15 season). But that still puts a ton of pressure on the goalie, and it is nearly impossible to ride that all the way to a championship.

There is, however, one small cause for optimism.

A lot of the Ducks’ problems defensively last season seemed to be based around their system and structure in the early part of the season under then-coach Randy Carlyle.

Under Carlyle the Ducks were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to suppressing shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances during 5-on-5 play.

They were 29th or worse when it came to shots on goal against, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances, and 26th in total shot attempts against. This is something that always happened with Carlyle coached teams and they would always go as far as their goaltending could take them. In recent years, Gibson masked a lot of those flaws by playing at an elite level and helped get the Ducks in the playoffs. He was able to do it for half of a season this year before finally playing like a mortal instead of a goaltending deity.

But after Carlyle was replaced by general manager Bob Murray, the Ducks showed some massive improvement defensively, shaving multiple shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances per 60 minutes off of their totals.

They went from 26th to seventh in shots on goal against, from 29th to 19th in shot attempts, from 30th to 17th in scoring chances against, and from 29th to 17th in high-danger scoring chances against.

Still not great, but definitely better. Much better. So much better that even though Gibson’s overall performance regressed, the Ducks still managed to win games and collect points at a significantly better rate than they did earlier in the season. They were 14-11-1 from Feb. 10 until the end of the season under Murray.

That is a 91.3 point pace over 82 games. That would have been a playoff point total in the Western Conference this past season.

Under Carlyle, it was a 74.6 point pace. That would have been one of the four worst records in the league.

Coaching changes are very rarely a cure-all. It is still a talent-driven league, and if you do not have talent you are probably not going to win very much. But there are always exceptions and outliers, and sometimes a coaching change is a necessity and can help dramatically improve a team.

New Ducks coach Dallas Eakins has an incredibly short NHL head coaching resume so we don’t have much to go by when it comes to what he will do What we do have to go by came in Edmonton where it has become abundantly clear over the past 15 years that the problems go far beyond the head coach (because they have all failed there). The Ducks are still short on talent at forward and defense, but it should still be able to perform better than it did a year ago. And with a goalie as dominant as Gibson can be (with a great backup behind him) there is no excuse for them to be as far out of the playoff picture as they were.

The Ducks don’t need to be the 1995 Devils defensively to compete.

They just need to not be the worst shot suppression team in the league.

If Eakins can figure out a way to build on the momentum the Ducks showed over the final two months of the 2018-19 season, they might actually have a fighting chance.

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.