Getty Images

Stars have cap space to make big moves

1 Comment

After years of being on a bargain contract, Tyler Seguin‘s finally going to get paid – to the tune of $9.85 million per year – starting next season.

With Jamie Benn already at $9.5M per pop, and the two once being called bleeping horsebleep by a high-ranking executive, you’d think that the Dallas Stars would be headed for a painful cap crunch this offseason.

As it turns out … nope, not really. The Stars actually stare down a Texas-sized opportunity to surround Benn and Seguin with some premier talent, whether they use a surprisingly robust amount of cap space to land free agents or if the Stars target yet another splashy trade. (They went the trade route to brain the Bruins out of Seguin, after all.)

Let’s take a look at the Stars’ larger situation to see how promising it could be, with copious help from Cap Friendly’s listings.

[For another breakdown of a Central team with promise, consider the Avalanche’s situation.]

A ton of bad money clearing away, or soon to clear

Jason Spezza isn’t as washed up as his lowest moments would make you think but … $7.5M was an agonizing cap number to hang on him, nonetheless. When you look at Spezza’s $7.5M basically being forwarded to Seguin’s bank account, it makes that raise more palatable, and also is a first step in understanding how the Stars are in a pretty solid salary situation.

The Stars will also see Marc Methot‘s $4.9M evaporate, along with the $1.5M buyout to Antti Niemi. After 2019-20, they can say goodbye to the mistake that was the Martin Hanzal deal ($4.75M), assuming they don’t do something sooner.

Heading into the offseason, Cap Friendly estimates the Stars allocating a bit less than $60.8M to 15 players. If the cap ceiling reaches $83M, that gives the Stars approximately $22.2M to work with, and some decisions to make.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To Zucc or not to Zucc?

There’s another salary expiring in the form of Mats Zuccarello‘s post-retention $3.1M, and the Stars face a riddle in deciding what to do with the near-instant cult hero.

On one hand, Zuccarello is rad, and easy to like. His creativity clearly opened things up for his linemates, at least once Zuccarello is healthy. There won’t be a ton of comparable options on the free agent market, and he seems interested in sticking around.

On the other hand, Zuccarello is 31, will turn 32 in September, and has dealt with some lousy injury luck. Allow me to jog your memory about Zuccarello suffering a skull fracture in 2015, an injury that briefly impaired his ability to speak. It’s pretty stunning that Zuccarello ever played professional hockey again after that injury, let alone playing such a high level.

So, again, Zucc is rad … but there are red flags. And then, of course, there are the conditions of that trade from the Rangers. If the Stars re-sign Zuccarello, they’d cough up a first-round pick to the Rangers, instead of a third-rounder.

Maybe the Stars should look at it as a win-win situation: you either bring back Zuccarello, or keep that first-rounder and reduce your risks? One thing seems clear: Stars fans already love him … and can you blame them?

[More on the Zuccarello dilemma.]

Old and new

Like the Avalanche, I’d argue that the Stars have incentive to be aggressive while they still have some bargain contracts. Dallas diverges a bit from Colorado in that the situation screams even more for additions sooner, rather than later.

While Benn and Seguin total close to $20M in cap space, other key Stars rank as bargains.

  • John Klingberg provides Norris-caliber defensive play for just $4.25M, and that cap hit runs through 2021-22.
  • Ben Bishop was otherworldly, and even if slippage is basically unavoidable, the 32-year-old clocks in at less than $5M per season through 2022-23. That may eventually be a problem (big goalies only tend to get hurt more as they age, not less), but he was probably worth $9M in 2018-19 alone.
  • Anton Khudobin was almost as impressive as Bishop, and with $2.5M for one more season, he buys the Stars some time to find a younger future goalie option, and also provides insulation from potential Bishop injuries.
  • Miro Heiskanen jumped almost instantly into heavy-usage as a rookie defenseman, and the Stars get the 19-year-old on his dirt-cheap rookie contract for two more seasons.
  • Roope Hintz looked like a budding star during the playoffs, and the power forward’s entry-level contract runs through 2019-20. That gives the Stars time to try to hash out an extension, and also time to figure out what he’s truly capable of.
  • Alexander Radulov has been fantastic for the Stars, and the 32-year-old’s $6.25M cap hit looks more than fair today. Maybe it will start to get dicey (it expires after 2021-22), but so far, so good.

That’s a fabulous foundation, and the Stars don’t have too many pressing contracts to deal with this summer, aside from finding the right price for RFA Esa Lindell. (Let me pause for embellishment jokes. Go ahead, get them out of your system.)

The Stars have a pretty nice mix of veterans and young guns, but they should make haste, because those veterans could hit the wall. Again, Bishop and Radulov are both 32, while Jamie Benn’s a rugged player who will turn 30 in July.

Age would linger as a question, in particular, if they bring back Zuccarello (31), Ben Lovejoy (35), and/or Roman Polak (33), considering that they already have Blake Comeau (33) and Andrew Cogliano (31) as veteran supporting cast members.

To me, this all points to an “add now” strategy. Maybe Phil Kessel would look good in green. It couldn’t hurt to see if Dallas is a big enough city for Artemi Panarin. And so on.

***

The Stars booted the Predators and gave the Blues all they could handle as constituted during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so there’s an argument for allowing that roster to simply try to build on 2018-19.

Still, when I look at the structure of this team, I don’t necessarily see the system that, at times, leaned far too heavily on scoring just enough while Ben Bishop saved the day. Heiskanen and Klingberg give the Stars two outstanding (and cheap) defensemen who can play a modern game, and there were times when Seguin – Benn – Radulov looked like one of the league’s most dominant trios. As Hintz and others improve, this roster could also take some of the pressure off of Benn and Seguin.

In sports, you don’t always know how wide your window is going to be open, and I’d argue the Stars should go bold, rather than waiting. A Kessel, Panarin, Matt Duchene, P.K. Subban or perhaps a returning Zuccarello could give Dallas the extra push they need, to say, win those big, double-OT Game 7s.

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.

Penguins questions include defense, trade bait, and Malkin’s bounce-back

Getty
Leave a comment

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Three pressing questions for the 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins

1. Is the defense good enough?

In the opinion of general manager Jim Rutherford, yes. He has repeatedly defended the construction of his defense and at one point even went as far as to call it the best defense he has had during his time in Pittsburgh. High praise considering he has been in Pittsburgh for two Stanley Cup winning teams.

This team, though, is not coming off of a Stanley Cup win and there is little objective evidence to suggest this defense is anything better than ordinary. They were 12th in the NHL in goals against this past season and even that ranking was driven significantly by the performance of Matt Murray in net thanks to some of the best play of his career from mid-December on.

As a team, the Penguins were one of the worst teams in the league at preventing shots, average in preventing scoring chances, and a little below average on the PK. They have one great defense pairing in Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin (one of the best pairings in all of hockey) and then a bunch of flawed players and question marks after that. Other than shipping out Olli Maatta over the summer, the Penguins have done nothing else to change the look of their defense. Rutherford obviously believes in this group, and he is taking a pretty big bet that he is right.

2. Who is the next salary cap casualty or trade chip?

This is probably more of a preseason question than a question for the season, but somebody has to go.

Trading Phil Kessel was supposed to alleviate some of the salary cap crunch, but taking Alex Galchenyuk as part of the return and signing Brandon Tanev in free agency quickly erased that savings. Add that to the returning contracts for Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson and the Penguins have a significant chunk of money going to depth players that probably are not moving them closer to another championship. It has put them in a position where they have to move out someone else.

As it stands, they are slightly over the salary cap and still have to re-sign RFA Marcus Pettersson. After this season, Galchenyuk, Justin Schultz, Jared McCann, Dominik Simon and starting goalie Matt Murray will be in line for new contracts. So who goes?

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure]

Johnson or Gudbranson could be an option to go off the blue line and would probably the ideal trade bait, while Bryan Rust or Nick Bjugstad seem like logical candidates at forward.

3. Will Evgeni Malkin bounce back?

It is a good bet that he will.

The final offensive numbers from this past season look good (better than a point-per-game average) and he had a great start to the season, but his production really slumped over the final three quarters of the season and especially at even-strength. His defensive game was also lacking and he will be the first to say the 2018-19 season was not his best. He can be better, and the Penguins need him to be better. Malkin is a proud player and will no doubt be motivated to show this past season was a fluke and that he is still one of the league’s best and most dominant players. A driven Malkin playing at his best is a season-changing player, and if he gets back to that level it will be more valuable to the Penguins than any other potential offseason addition could have been.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

P.K. Subban, Lindsey Vonn announce engagement

2 Comments

Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban are engaged, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard.

Vonn, who retired in February with a female record 82 World Cup wins, and Subban, a New Jersey Devils defenseman, have dated for more than one year.

Vonn was previously married to fellow Olympic skier Thomas Vonn in 2007. They announced divorce plans in late 2011.

Vonn reportedly grimaced when asked in 2013 if she would get married again.

“No, thanks!” she said, according to Vogue then. “I am definitely not getting married. To anyone.”

After her divorce, Vonn dated Tiger Woods and NFL assistant coach Kenan Smith before dating Subban, going public in June 2018.

“Right off the bat, I knew he was different,” Vonn said, according to a Vogue magazine announcement of the engagement. “But I’d been married before, so I was pretty hesitant to let myself think that I could find someone that I would want to be married to again. After a few months of dating, I knew he was the one I wanted to be with, though.”

Subban, 30, also owns an Olympic gold medal playing for Canada in Sochi.

“Lindsey’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Subban said, according to Vogue. “There are people in life that deserve to be with good people. They have that person who takes care of them and makes them smile, and she deserves to be with someone who loves her more than anything else in the world, and I do.”

Vonn and Subban would become one of the most prominent married Olympic champion couples, joining the likes of tennis players Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf and gymnasts Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner.

For more from Nick Zaccardi check out Olympic Talk on NBC Sports

Remembering Chris Drury’s Little League World Series conquest 30 years later

Ronald Modra / Getty Images
1 Comment

The summer of 1989 for the Trumbull, Connecticut little league team began with crowds featuring only their parents. By the end of August, their final game of the season saw 40,000-plus people turn out at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

On the mound for Trumbull that August 26 afternoon was a cherubic two-sport star. Chris Drury had turned 13 six days earlier and was eager to continue a winning year. Just four months before the 1989 Little League World Series, the future Stanley Cup champion and U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer helped lead his pee-wee hockey team to the U.S. Amateur American Hockey Championship. His Greater Bridgeport, Conn. team went 64-2-1 en route to the title, and now Drury was trying to cap off the summer with another tournament win.

Facing Kang-Tu Little League from Taiwan, a country that had dominated the event for the previous two decades having won 13 of the 20 previous tournaments, Trumbull fell behind early but rallied with four runs in the third and fourth innings. Drury’s bases loaded two-run single extended their lead to 4-1.

After loading the bases in the top of the fifth, the Far East representatives were unable to cut the deficit any further after Drury induced a force out at third base, putting Trumbull three outs away.

“I don’t think any of us understood the magnitude of what we were doing while we were doing it,” Drury told the New York Daily News in 2009. “We were just playing baseball.”

The first two outs came way of a fly out to left field and Drury’s second strikeout of the game. When the ball came off the bat for what would end up being the final out, it first appeared like it was going over the wall as a two-run homerun, but left fielder Dan McGrath quickly settled under it on the warning track and the celebration was on.

Drury and his teammates were everywhere following their conquest in Williamsport, as documented by Sports Illustrated in 1989. They appeared on Good Morning America, met Mickey Mantle at his restaurant in New York City, visited President Bush in the White House, and attended the first two games of the 1989 World Series in Oakland, with Drury throwing out the first pitch before Game 2. There was even an appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade among the many experiences the team was a part of in the months following the championship.

The winning didn’t stop there for Drury as he got older and eventually turned his focus to hockey. He helped Boston University win an NCAA championship during his freshman year and ended his collegiate career as a Hobey Baker Award winner. As he entered the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche, Drury won the 1999 Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and two years later he won a Stanley Cup as he development a penchant for scoring big goals in the postseason. He was also a part of two silver medal winning U.S. Olympic teams in Salt Lake 2002 and Vancouver 2010.

Following his time with the Avalanche, Drury would spend a season with the Calgary Flames and three with the Buffalo Sabres before finishing his NHL career in 2011 after four years with the New York Rangers. Upon retirement, he took a job in the Rangers organization as director of player development and these days he’s the team’s assistant general manager.

The thrill of a winning a Little League World Series title stayed with Drury as he grew older and experienced success on a professional level. Nothing could top the summer of 1989.

“It made me realize at a young age how much fun winning is,” Drury told the New York Times in 2008. “I wouldn’t trade it for the Cup. I wouldn’t trade it for a national championship in college. Each one was so unique. Little League was such a big thrill at such a young age. I don’t think I could rank them. They’re all No. 1 to me.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

————

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.

Sabres’ Dahlin says he’s better prepared for second NHL season

Getty Images
2 Comments

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Last season didn’t sit well with Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

Unaccustomed to losing and no longer a rookie, Dahlin told The Associated Press on Thursday he feels better prepared and is far more driven to help transform the Sabres into contenders.

”I’m putting more pressure on myself. We’re going to be a winning team and be in the playoffs,” Dahlin said. ”I think everyone is putting more pressure on ourselves now, and we’re ready to go.”

The first player selected in the 2018 draft is so eager to put last year behind him, he was among the first Sabres players to hit the ice at the team’s practice facility, some three weeks before teams open training camp. He arrived in Buffalo from his native Sweden on Tuesday, and would have been back in town a few days earlier if not for travel complications.

The rookie of the year finalist is motivated after how Buffalo unraveled immediately following a 10-game winning streak that had the team briefly sitting first in the overall standings at the end of November. The Sabres then won just 16 of their final 57 games to miss the playoffs for an eighth straight season, the NHL’s longest active drought.

”We played so well in the beginning of the season, so that made you frustrated because we know how good we can play,” he said. ”Yeah, we’re going to get something good going on here.”

Expressing unhappiness and acknowledging frustration is new for Dahlin, who spent much of last year looking mostly at the bright side. When asked late last season if Buffalo’s 49 losses (including overtime and shootouts) were the most he ever endured in one year, Dahlin smiled and responded by saying the team’s 33 wins were also a season-high for him.

A year ago, Dahlin was expressing hope he’d simply make the season-opening roster. Now he’s begun to find his voice as a key member of the team.

”I feel more prepared. I feel more mature,” said Dahlin, who turned 19 in April. ”Like that one year of experience, I know what’s coming this season. I feel more comfortable in my position.”

He said he spent much of the summer adding weight and strength to better handle the rigors of an 82-game schedule and face elite opposition.

Dahlin’s rookie season mirrored much of that of his team when it came to inconsistency. He had a goal and eight assists during the 10-game win streak, but followed with two goals and four assist over his next 17 games.

Though he led Sabres defenseman and finished third among NHL rookies with 44 points (nine goals, 35 assists), he closed the season with a goal and six assists in Buffalo’s final 19 games.

Dahlin showed some rust Thursday, when the usually smooth-skating player took a spill – ”Oh, yeah, I slipped,” he said – while being untouched at the blue line. He bounced back a few moments later, when he drove in from the right point and converted Jason Pominville’s no-look pass for a goal.

Declaring himself ready to go, Dahlin already had his first face-to-face meeting with new coach Ralph Krueger on Wednesday.

”He seems like a really good coach and a good man,” he said of Krueger, who takes over after Phil Housley was fired following two sub-par seasons.