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 take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — No team in over 25 years has been more dominant than the Vegas Golden Knights through the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final.

    They have outscored the Florida Panthers by eight goals, including a 7-2 victory in Game 2 that put the Knights two wins from the first championship in the franchise’s short six-year history.

    It will take a rare rally for the Panthers to come back as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era, but the Panthers opened the playoffs by storming back from 3-1 down to beat the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

    Florida will have to significantly up its level of play to beat a Vegas team that won by three goals on Saturday and then five in this game. The last team to win the first two games of a Cup Final by more than eight combined goals was the 1996 Colorado Avalanche – who outscored the Panthers by nine.

    “I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason we are still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just feel that we have the best team from player one through 20.”

    Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Knights and started an early blitz that chased Sergei Bobrovsky, the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie.

    Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all of them coming after the first round. The only player with more following the opening round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

    “They want to set the tone with being undisciplined like Game 1 and we set the tone back,” Marchessault said. “It was scoring that first goal there. But we’re still pretty far from our goal here.”

    Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

    It was too much for Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

    Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, carried Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his past 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that stretch. But he’s given up eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

    “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

    Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

    Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Knights. Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

    “He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

    A group of four fans behind one of the nets wore sweaters that spelled out his last name, and Hill has often received the loudest cheers from Knights fans, reminiscent of when Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Vegas in its first three seasons.

    “It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team.”

    The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

    The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

    That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

    Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

    “We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.

    Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

    “We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

    Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

    Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

    The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

    “It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

    That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

    Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

    The outcome was determined long before that.

    After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

    Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

    “That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

    Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

    Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

    “I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

    Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

    Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

    “If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

    Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

    “It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

    The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

    The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

    It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.