NHL Rink Wrap: Salary cap talk at GM meetings; costly win for Maple Leafs

NHL Rink Wrap: Salary cap talk at GM meetings; costly win for Maple Leafs
Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tuesday’s top NHL players

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Seen Stamkos making a difference? Then you were watching the Hurricanes and Lightning during the NHL action on Tuesday.

Stamkos scored the overtime game-winner, assisted on the goal that sent the contest to OT, and collected one other assist. So, that’s a three-point game (1G, 2A). This gives us a chance to appreciate the season Steven Stamkos is enjoying.

With the Lightning, it’s tempting to take brilliance for granted. They just keep doing this. They keep winning, their stars keep producing, Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the few goalies we can trust, and Victor Hedman isn’t broken by those big minutes. And, yeah, they’ve shaken off the sort of free agent losses that lesser teams would find devastating.

[They also keep finding ways to add depth at trade deadlines]

So, you might tune out and miss that Steven Stamkos sure looks a lot like the Steven Stamkos before injuries once again disrupted his career.

With that overtime game-winner, Stamkos now has 30 goals this season, his first 30+ campaign since scoring 45 in 2018-19. Granted, Stamkos scored 29 goals in just 57 games in 2019-20, so that 30-goal plateau feels a touch misleading.

Nonetheless, this is still impressive. The 32-year-old rests at 73 points in 65 games this season. That puts Stamkos comfortably in the top-20 in scoring, ahead of the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby. Stunning stuff, Stamkos.

Tuesday NHL highlights

The Predators and Senators held a moment of silence for Eugene Melnyk, who died at the age of 62 on Monday.

Here’s that Stamkos OT-GWG:

 

Kevin Fiala: talented human.

“You can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them” feels more and more appropriate for the Florida Panthers.

Tuesday NHL Takeaways

NHL salary cap projected to be about $82.5M next season

Apparently NHL GMs received a projected salary cap ceiling for next season (2022-23): $82.5 million. That’s $1M up from $81.5M, the salary cap the NHL’s been stuck around for quite some time.

If you want teams to be able to load up, well, you’re going to need to wait.

Honestly, this should be a bigger concern than supposed LTIR hijinks. You know, maybe the cap would have a chance of going up a bit if the Coyotes were in a better situation than echoing indie rock bands touring small clubs?

Normally, this would be where I complain about the NHL’s allergic reaction to the idea of a luxury tax. Like many other possible areas of improvements, that’s proven to be such a resounding dead end that it’s clear arguing about that is a waste of breath.

Coolest Game on Earth!

Other takeaways from NHL GM Meetings Day 2

PHT’s Adam Gretz provided the lowdown on day two of the NHL GM Meetings, including the salary cap discussion. If you want some quick quips regarding the other top topics:

  • It’s a good idea to improve the system so the voided Evgenii Dadonov trade doesn’t happen again. Now, there’s the potential drawback that no-trade teams would get leaked, thus hurting feelings (especially in, what, Winnipeg?). Personally, it’s a win-win, though. Dadonov playing for the Golden Knights and possibly saving their season? Great drama. Leaked teams giving us better ideas about how cold a market is in players’ eyes? Sloppy and spicy.
  • Ah, what a relief. I don’t blame the NHL’s GMs wanting to monitor LTIR use and salary cap shenanigans during the playoffs. But there’s the risk of overreach. Do you want teams to be as close as to their best as possible after a grinding 82-game season? Then don’t go too far just because there’s a rare Nikita Kucherov LTIR bit here and there. (And even then, Kucherov wasn’t exactly 100%, impressive offense and all.)
  • Classic hockey/NHL mindset to see the buzz of Team North America from the last World Cup and say, “not again.” Boooooo.

Maybe cool it on the fighting, Nathan MacKinnon?

Should … the Colorado Avalanche maybe have a little chat with Nathan MacKinnon?

Earlier this season, word surfaced that MacKinnon is a bit of a dietary tyrant. Beware those who want to play for the Avalanche and eat heaping portions of the least nutritionally beneficial starches available.

Overall, it’s understandable that a player as driven as MacKinnon wants to make sure they’re using the best fuel. Yet, you can’t say he’s careful in every way.

At times, MacKinnon revs up the engine, and gets steered by a volatile temper. Whether he slashed that official or not, it wasn’t great that it was a discussion. There were already concerns about MacKinnon’s anger getting the best of him before he possibly got injured fighting Matt Dumba after Dumba hit Mikko Rantanen on Sunday.

Sure, there’s a “lead by example” element of sticking up for your teammate. But MacKinnon’s far too valuable to the Avalanche to fight, and it’s happened more than usual lately. Now it might keep him out long enough for it to be a concern.

While you want MacKinnon to play with passion, there has to be a happy medium between skating passively and scared vs. trying to be a superstar enforcer rolling the dice with nightly broken knuckles.

Frankly, the Avalanche deal with enough sneaky-troubling injury issues beyond unforced errors like a superstar player fighting when a plugger could have dropped the gloves. (If you fight at all; the peak Red Wings preferred hurting opponents on the scoreboard to get revenge.)

It would have been better if MacKinnon and the Avalanche didn’t need to learn this lesson the hard way. Hopefully they’re clued into what they need to do now, at least.

Tuesday was a feast of high-level NHL battles, including a costly win for the Maple Leafs

Here are some quick summaries.

  • The Maple Leafs likely took some joy in beating their rivals, the Boston Bruins. Especially with both teams so close in the standings. That joy is subdued by the Maple Leafs dealing with possible injuries to Petr Mrazek, Justin Holl, and Ilya Lyubushkin, however.
  • In some Lightning – Hurricanes games, you’d expect Carolina to hog the volume, but Tampa Bay to hope they can survive on quality over quantity. During an often-exciting Lightning – Hurricanes game during the NHL action on Tuesday, Tampa Bay earned a 32-19 shots on goal advantage. Carolina almost won anyway, but Steven Stamkos assisted on the game-tying goal, then scored the game-winner in OT.
  • There’s a decent chance that the Rangers will face the Penguins in a first-round series. With wins in back-to-back weeks, the Rangers greatly improved their odds of holding home-ice advantage in a hypothetical series vs. the Penguins. For the Penguins’ sake, they at least didn’t get blown out by the Rangers this time. They still lost, though, and in regulation. Perhaps New York found another gear after a promising trade deadline?
  • Impressively, the Flames controlled much of the play against the Nathan MacKinnon-less Avalanche, including a 45-30 SOG advantage. The two teams only combined for three goals, all on the power play. Ultimately, it would be Valeri Nichushkin who was the difference-maker (beyond Darcy Kuemper), scoring both of Colorado’s goals.

Wednesday’s big story

Another possible playoff preview in Kings vs. Oilers?

While the Eastern Conference features room for the top eight to move up and down, the West’s battles are more urgent. Although the Kings and Oilers are unlikely to fall all the way out of the postseason, such a collapse is still at least plausible.

That said, heading into the NHL games on Wednesday, Kings vs. Oilers would be the Pacific Division’s 2/3 matchup. And it would sure be an interesting clash of styles.

Generally, the Kings look either solid or great at even-strength, showing signs of the puck-hogging team they were when they won two Stanley Cups. Being that this is a rebuild that’s ahead of schedule, maybe it’s not too shocking that they’re less exciting in high-skill areas, like the power play.

[Check out where Kings, Oilers, others place in the PHT Power Rankings]

In some ways, the Oilers are the opposite: shaky at even-strength, deadly on special teams. There’s hope that Jay Woodcroft can nudge Edmonton in a more competent direction at 5-on-5, yet the makeup of the team seems to still boil down to “survive when Connor McDavid and/or Leon Draisaitl aren’t on the ice.)

(Interestingly, the Kings’ goaltending’s slipped lately, making it less of an advantage over the Oilers’ at-times-disastrous netminding.)

Theoretically, Kings vs. Oilers could be a series featuring two teams with very different approaches. The actual on-ice differences may actually end up being more subtle, but if styles really clash, hockey fans could have something to chew on.

Tuesday NHL scores

Maple Leafs 6, Bruins 4
Lightning 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)
Panthers 7, Canadiens 4
Rangers 3, Penguins 2
Islanders 4, Blue Jackets 3
Predators 4, Senators 1
Wild 4, Flyers 1
Avalanche 2, Flames 1
Stars 3, Ducks 2

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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