If nothing else, Predators get bargains with RFAs like Tolvanen

If nothing else, Predators get bargains with RFAs like Tolvanen
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Trace it back to the Matt Duchene contract, or most likely some time before that, but the Predators’ stock has plummeted in recent years. We’re fairly deep into the point where it’s fair to wonder if David Poile should still serve as Predators GM. Yet, with signing Eeli Tolvanen, there’s one area where the Predators remain adept: signing RFAs to low-risk, possibly high-reward contracts.

In the case of Tolvanen, the Predators confirmed it’s a three-year contract with a cheap $1.45 million cap hit.

Tolvanen contract low-risk for Predators; what kind of reward should we expect?

At Evolving Hockey, the most likely projected contract for Tolvanen was two years at a $1.442M cap hit. Expanding the 22-year-old’s deal to three years would bump that to $1.715M.

By that measure, this is a modest bargain. But to actually get pen to paper on a contract with such a modest cap hit, especially for medium term? That’s a pleasant contract for the Predators.

Considering that low dollar amount, it’s not the end of the world if Tolvanen simply doesn’t work out. It’s exciting, however, if he breaks out.

To be fair, that remains a pretty significant “if,” but the potential is tantalizing.

Frankly, it’s hard to believe that Tolvanen is just 22, because it feels like he’s almost made an impact for Nashville for what seemed like so long. After the Predators drafted Tolvanen 30th overall in 2017, he flirted with a quick jump.

Instead, he couldn’t quite make a mark in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tolvanen ended up playing:

  • Three games in 2017-18, following that 2017 NHL Draft (again, 30th overall).
  • Four games in 2018-19.
  • Tolvanen didn’t make any 2019-20 appearances for the Predators.
  • Finally, in 2020-21, Tolvanen stuck with the Predators, scoring 22 points in 40 games.

When Tolvanen couldn’t quite crack the Predators’ lineup, it was frustrating. In an ideal world, he’d be the balm for a power play unit that never seemed to find answers. But, in reality, he wasn’t even putting up particularly strong AHL numbers.

It would be dangerous to daydream too much about possibilities if this was a big-money contract. Since it’s not, such hopes seem more reasonable.

Consider that Tolvanen’s production (again, 22 points in 40 games) came in fairly modest ice time (14:48 minutes per game). With more reps, maybe he can become a more prolific scorer?

Granted, the Predators would have to ask if it would be wise to really roll out Tolvanen for much more than 15 minutes per night. Luckily, it’s not that big of a deal if the answer is “no.”

Predators continue to use RFA leverage shrewdly

Again, the Predators have done a lot wrong in recent years, but they’ve gotten RFA deals right.

The elevator pitch with Tolvanen is that it’s a low-risk contract, possibly with medium or high rewards.

It wouldn’t be a first if this deal paid off. Over the years, the Predators inked RFAs to deals that ended up looking great, sometimes almost immediately.

That’s impressive stuff, and the Predators could continue their RFA successes with Tolvanen and Juuse Saros.

Yes, the Predators had RFA leverage to wield with both Tolvanen and Saros. Yet, it’s still promising that they mixed term with reasonable cap hits in each case. Considering the sort of contracts that older, less-accomplished goalies received as UFAs, 26-year-old Saros’ $5M cap hit (for four seasons) stands a strong chance of being a tremendous value.

If not, it’s at least not the sort of price tag that would sink a team.

They don’t make up for the Predators’ other mistakes, though

… Unfortunately, the Predators no longer have windows like super-steals for Ellis and Josi. They’ve also made center mistakes in stereo with those $8M albatross deals for Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene.

Last season, Saros dragged the Predators to a postseason appearance with a Herculean finish to the regular season. Asking him to do that again probably won’t be too reasonable.

You could talk yourself into certain things breaking better this time around, mind you. Maybe Forsberg will put together a healthy season.

Still, subtracting Arvidsson and Ellis only stacks the odds against the Predators. By committing a baffling four-year deal to Mikael Granlund ($5M cap hit), the Predators aren’t quite cheap this season, either.

Is residing somewhere in the playoff bubble really worth it for the Predators? Truly, it might be better to rebuild, even if the Duchene/Josi/Johansen contracts may limit it to “reloading.”

Forsberg’s either due that same $6M, or a raise. Mattias Ekholm‘s been another remarkable steal ($3.75M), but he’s 31 and also entering a contract year.

[What’s next for the Predators after offseason changes?]

If contending for a Stanley Cup was the genuine priority, the Predators would probably need to keep selling, starting with Forsberg and Ekholm. Truly, that great Saros value might make more sense if Nashville eventually sells high in a trade.

(Considering that they invested a 2020 first-rounder in a goalie, wouldn’t the plan be to move on from Saros sooner or later?)

In what’s been a bitter offseason, the Predators landed some sweat deals with Tolvanen and Saros. Those contracts won’t wash away their other mistakes, but they could be something to build on.

There’s also the middle ground: keeping the Predators from sagging too much, without really giving them a high ceiling.

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.

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    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced Wednesday.

    The Knights termed the procedure Tuesday as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested early Wednesday morning in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released later Wednesday on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.