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Ovechkin, U.S. women’s Olympic team big winners at ESPY Awards

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It’s been a year of firsts for Alex Ovechkin.

His first Stanley Cup (and the Washington Capitals first Stanley Cup) and his first Conn Smythe Trophy were major accomplishments that one of the league’s all-time greats had yet to accomplish before the beginning of June.

But up until Wednesday night, no NHL player had ever been handed the ESPY for Best Male Athlete.

And so when Alex Ovechkin’s name was pulled out of the envelope, he added another first to his incredible year.

Ovechkin beat out the likes of Houston Astros first baseman Jose Altuve, who was instrumental in his teams’ World Series win, Houston Rockets guard James Harden and five-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

He wasn’t on-hand to accept the award as he was back home with his wife Nastya, who is about to bring the couple’s first child into the world.

Ovechkin’s season was special even before the Stanley Cup win, scoring 49 times to win the Rocket Richard Trophy for the seventh time and reached the 600-goal milestone to become only the 20th player in NHL history to hit the mark. He also played in his 1,000th NHL game on April 1.

Ovechkin also took home the ESPY for Best NHL Player, which wasn’t a surprise given his year.

Hockey’s good night at the ESPY’s continued with the United States women’s ice hockey team winning the ESPY for Best Game after their 3-2 shootout triumph over Team Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Americans trailed 2-1 in the third period before Monique Lamoureux-Morando’s breakaway goal forced overtime and the eventual shootout, where twin sister Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored the winner in the sixth round to seal gold.

The win was sweet revenge for the American team, who had come up short against the Canadians in recent Olympics.


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

What’s the right contract for Tom Wilson, Capitals?

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What kind of price to put on grit, agitation, intimidation?

In the NHL, it’s something of a Rorschach Test for GMs. It’s easier to gauge the value of elite players and middle-of-the-pack guys when scoring is their calling card, but when it comes to “intangibles,” prices can vary.

Even with that in mind, Tom Wilson stands as a tricky test case.

You can tie yourself in knots examining the agitating winger, especially if you’re a Washington Capitals fan nervously hoping that the RFA signs a deal soon. Relief won’t come from the latest update, either; the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan reports that Wilson’s agent Mark Guy said that the two sides aren’t “done or close.”

Khurshudyan provides some interesting ranges for a possible contract: Guy told her that a new deal could be “north of four years,” while Washington also indicated a preference for a long-term agreement. The salary cap could fall somewhere in the $3.5-$4.5 million range, according to Khurshudyan.

With Wilson (probably wisely) opting against salary arbitration, it’s a lot tougher to guess when something will formulate.

But, hey, that gives hockey people plenty of time to bicker about his value. Back when Wilson was suspended during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert summarized the debate regarding the 24-year-old’s value.

” … He is more accurately described a middle-six forward who has been thrust into a bigger role because Barry Trotz is trying to spread the offense across the first two lines more evenly. A lot is made of the fact that Wilson finished with 32 points at 5-on-5 this season, because that was fourth on the Capitals behind only Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Nick Backstrom. But look at the guys who had that many 5-on-5 points this year: Alex DeBrincat, Dustin Brown, Gabe Landeskog, Gus Nyquist, Josh Bailey, Kevin Fiala, and Vince Trocheck. These are guys for whom a pretty reasonable evaluation is “They’re mostly pretty good,” but not much more than that, and with the exception of Landeskog and Brown, none of them played with guys who, like Ovechkin, were legit MVP candidates.

The remarkable thing about Wilson is that various debates can swing both ways.

From an “intangibles” perspective, you could argue that he can be something of a poor man’s Todd Bertuzzi, “opening up space” for forwards such as Alex Ovechkin, and maybe get opponents off their game with a violent hit or a fight. Conversely, someone could argue that his tendency to take penalties could put his team in a bad position, or perhaps that players looking to deliver crushing checks may find themselves out of position.

The pure numbers get more complicated as you burrow deeper.

On one hand, his career-high came this season, with a modest 14 goals and 35 points. While he rode shotgun with Ovechkin for significant chunks of time, he also didn’t get a lot of reps on the Capitals’ deadly power play.

Wilson’s possession stats were pretty good for a player of his style … yet again, that sometimes came with high-end players, and he also enjoyed some cushy offensive zone starts in some cases, too.

Still, a guy who can score a bit, hit a lot, and kill a ton of penalties brings quite a bit of value. As a former first-rounder (16th overall in 2012), few would doubt that the Caps hold Wilson in high regard.

The Capitals also boast a pretty robust $8.26M in cap space, according to Cap Friendly, so even though they’ve been prudent when it comes to bringing back members of their championship squad, they’d struggle to say that they can’t afford to pay Wilson at full value.

*Phew*

Is your head spinning yet? That would be understandable, and maybe that explains why contract negotiations seem stilted. What kind of deal would make sense for Wilson?

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.

PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: Caviar in the Cup, Red Square visit, tour of Czech Republic

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The PHT Stanley Cup tracker will keep tabs on how the Washington Capitals spend their summer celebrating

Last time in the chronicles of the Cup, Alex Ovechkin had taken the mug home to Russia, where it visited the World Cup and where Ovechkin’s dad, Mikhail, got to lift Lord Stanley for the first time.

Of course, no trip to Russia would be complete without a trip to Red Square. Ovechkin, obviously aware of this, showed up to the iconic setting unprompted with the Cup.

It’s not certain what the most expensive thing that has been eaten out of the mug bit of the Stanley Cup — cereal, expensive booze, etc., has all made its way into the bowl — but we’ll assume filling it with caviar is right up there.

Michal Kempny, fresh of signing a new deal with the Capitals, got his chance to take Stanley home to the Czech Republic.

Kempny’s hometown of Hodonin was treated to a good time in the Cup’s first foray into the eastern portion of the country.

Of course, the Cup got to ride shotgun again as Kempny head to his hometown rink for a meetup with fans and a Q&A.

The Cup wasn’t done in the Czech Republic after Kempny’s time with it, however.

Hockey’s holy grail then headed to the nation’s capital of Prague to see Jakub Vrana.

Vrana was joined by Kempny and Andre Burakovsky during his day, and also had Washington Wizards point guard Tomas Satoransky join in on the fun.

And, of course, mom and dad got their chance.

The Cup tour will take a much-needed break this week as it makes it’s way back to domestic soil. In two week’s time, Stanley will visit Minnesota and North Dakota, including time spent with Matt Niskanen and T.J. Oshie.

Lord Stanley’s itinerary can be found here.


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 Time Machine: Remembering Jaromir Jagr trade nobody won

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Throughout the summer we will be taking a look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at the Pittsburgh Penguins trading Jaromir Jagr to the Washington Capitals, a trade that probably everybody regrets — but still had a stupid way of working out.

On the ice the Pittsburgh Penguins have been a remarkably successful franchise over the past 35 years. Five championships, an extensive list of Hall of Famers, probably four of the top-10 players to play in the NHL during that stretch, and a pile of individual scoring titles and MVP awards.

Off the ice, there have been some dark times, specifically when it came to the teams financial and ownership situations.

The darkest of those times was no doubt during the late 1990s and early 2000s when the team went through bankruptcy (for a second time!), was playing in a crumbling dump of a building, and at one point in 1999 it seemed possible — if not likely — that the team might even be completely dissolved.

Then, 17 years ago Wednesday, just a couple of months after a run to the Eastern Conference Final that was led by the stunning return to the ice by team owner Mario Lemieux, they traded Jaromir Jagr — at that point the second greatest player in team history and the league’s reigning scoring champion — to the Washington Capitals for a collection of prospects.

The Background

Jagr being traded was not a shock. It had become inevitable for a variety of reasons, ranging from the team’s unsettled financial situation to Jagr’s desire to, well, get the heck out of Pittsburgh.

The shock was where he ended up going and how little the team received in return for what was, at the time, the league’s most dominant player.

While everyone today knows the Penguins-Capitals rivalry as being centered around Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the history goes back much further than those two superstars. Throughout the 1990s, Penguins-Capitals was a regular matchup in the playoffs and it had its share of madness. Probably even more than the current rivalry does.

During the 1999-00 series, a scheduling conflict at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh forced the series to shift back to the Steel City for Games 2 and 3 (as opposed to Game 3 and 4 as the format usually dictates), a significant disadvantage for the Capitals at the start. Naturally, this left them pretty angry and led to then-coach Ron Wilson proclaiming before the start of the series that he wouldn’t mind playing all seven games in Pittsburgh and that his team would win anyway.

The Penguins won Game 1 in Washington a couple of days later by a 7-0 margin and won the series in five games.

A few years earlier during the 1996 series, Penguins assistant coach Bryan Trottier and Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld (he of “have another donut” fame) went nose-to-nose between the benches during a line brawl on the ice.

There was the Petr Nedved four overtime game. There was a regular season game in 1992 between the two teams that turned into such a gong show Lemieux, Jagr, and Kevin Stevens were all ejected, with Jagr earning a 10-game suspension for placing his hands on a referee.

In short, these two teams had a history, and at the time, it typically went in the Penguins’ favor with Jagr playing a central role in a lot of it. He and the Penguins were almost always the obstacle standing between the Capitals and a lengthy playoff run.

Then, after months of speculation that Jagr might be destined for New York (one of the few teams at the time that was thought to be able to afford him), he ended up going to Washington in exchange for prospects Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, and Ross Lupaschuk.

From The Pittsburgh Side 

For Pittsburgh, the name of the game was getting younger and cheaper, and while the names Beech, Sivek, and Lupaschuk will never stand out other than being the answer to a trivia question, the Penguins’ hockey staff was absolutely ecstatic with the return at the time.

At least that is what they said.

At the press conference announcing the trade then-general manager Craig Patrick compared Beech to a Ron Francis-type player, saying “we feel he can be that type of franchise player. He’s only 20 years old so you can’t expect that from him today, but we feel that’s what he is going to give us down the road.”

Perhaps the worst thing you can do to a 20-year-old player that was just acquired in a laughably lopsided trade for your best player is to directly compare him to another Hall of Famer. Talk about setting an unreasonable bar that can never, ever be reached.

Patrick went on to explain that the other team most interested in a Jagr trade — the Rangers — was only offering veteran players, while the Penguins wanted youth. That is exactly what the trio he received provided as they were all selected within the top-40 picks of the previous year’s draft. Looking back on it now this would not be a point in their favor as the 1999 draft will probably go down, from top to bottom, as one of the worst drafts in NHL history.

Still, Patrick said at the time when he told his scouting staff about Washington’s offer they responded by “jumping up and down” and that “they loved it.”

Stunningly, they were not the only ones.

Even though Jagr was a dominant player in Pittsburgh, helping the team win two championships and at times almost single-handedly dragging the team to the playoffs and keeping its very existence alive (as he may have done during the 1999 playoffs), his exit from Pittsburgh was not a positive one. He was viewed as a malcontent, a coach-killer, and his “dying alive” remarks soured a significant portion of the Penguins’ fan base.

In the days after the trade the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was filled with letters-to-the-editor from fans absolutely crushing Jagr and celebrating his exit.

Just some of the examples:

Today, 17 years later, all of this is amazing to look back on because we know how it all ended up going for the Penguins.

Together, Beech, Sivek, and Lupaschuk played a grand total of 141 games for the Penguins, scoring 13 goals and 33 total points, while the Penguins were a laughing stock for the better part of the next four seasons, continuing to sell off every decent player they had.

It was ugly.

From the Washington Side

Meanwhile, the immediate reaction in Washington was the exact opposite because the Capitals had acquired the boogeyman that had destroyed them for years and was expected to be the missing piece and final ingredient in a Stanley Cup recipe.

He was joining a team that had Peter Bondra, Adam Oates, Sergei Gonchar, and Olaf Kolzig, all All-Star level players at the time.

The Capitals eventually signed him to a seven-year, $77 million contract, at the time the largest contract in NHL history.

The response from the high rollers in the organization was nothing short of sheer joy.

Owner Ted Leonsis at the introductory press conference: “Welcome to the sixth day of the Jaromir Jagr love-fest. I’m really pleased with how the town has reacted. We almost had a riot at Dulles (airport). We needed a police escort.”

General manager George McPhee: “For the first time in 27 years I think people think we mean business, and we do.”

And later…

“I didn’t sleep it all last Tuesday and Wednesday. I guess I must have been pretty excited. I picked up the papers (the morning after the trade) and said ‘Holy smokes, we pulled it off.”

Head coach Ron Wilson: “The reality of it hit me a few days ago. I’m at my computer making up (hypothetical) lines and I said, ‘My God, Jaromir Jagr!’ I feel like a kid in a toy store who gets told, ‘you can have whatever you want.’ I get to pick the most expensive toy in the store and I get to play with it.”

This, for the record, was the correct reaction. From all of them. They got the best player in hockey, in the prime of his career, got him signed to a contract extension, and did not have to give up anything of value — both then and after the fact — to get him.

This should have been a franchise-altering moment for the Washington Capitals.

It was.

Just not the way anybody expected it to be.

The Result

The Penguins, understandably, went in the tank. Lemieux was never able to stay healthy or recapture the magic he had in his initial return and the full-on rebuild was underway. Everybody saw that coming.

The stunning result is that nothing went according to plan for the Capitals.

Jagr ended up having some of the worst seasons of his career in Washington while the team (after winning consecutive division titles) failed to make the playoffs in his first year with the team. And as one of those hilarious letters to the editor up above correctly predicted, Wilson was, in fact, a dead man walking having been fired after the season and replaced by Bruce Cassidy. Things were only marginally better the following year as the Capitals won the Southeast Division only to lose in the first-round of the playoffs to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

From there, the quest to trade Jagr and completely rebuild the organization was on. The problem the Capitals ran into is that even though Jagr’s production was still among the top players in the league, it was a fraction of what he did during his time in Pittsburgh. There was also a looming collective bargaining situation that made pretty much every team hesitant to take on the biggest contract in the NHL because nobody was fully aware of what the economic situation in the league would look like a few years later.

Finally, during the 2003-04 season, the Capitals found a taker and sent him to the New York Rangers in a one-for-one swap for Anson Carter.

Leonsis said in the aftermath of the trade he had to make it because of the “new economic reality” of the league and that it was the first step in “re-crafting the team.”

The following season was completely wiped out by the 2004-05 NHL lockout. In the years immediately after it, Jagr returned to being one of the best offensive players in the league and missed out on what would have been his sixth scoring title by just two points (his 123 points were second to only Joe Thornton‘s 125). He was also the runner-up for the MVP award. After a few highly successful years in New York he spent three years playing in Russia before returning for a nomadic end to his NHL career that saw him bounce from team-to-team on a yearly basis.

The crazy thing about this trade is that even though it was a spectacular failure for both teams it still ended up setting the stage for what both teams would eventually become.

When Patrick made the trade in Pittsburgh he gave a timeline of five years for when the team would once again be a factor. Five years later the team was back in the playoffs and just a couple of years away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final and ultimately winning it. That success had absolutely nothing to do with any of the players acquired in the Jagr trade but that trade did begin the rebuild that resulted in the team being bad enough to land the draft picks that got them Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby.

Jagr’s exit out of Washington led to a similar result for the Capitals.

The year Jagr was traded to the Rangers signaled the beginning of a full-scale rebuild in Washington and resulted with the Capitals finishing that season with the second-worst record in the league (ahead of only the Penguins). The Capitals ended up winning the draft lottery the next year and the right to select Alex Ovechkin (the Penguins, picking second, ended up with Malkin and by losing that lottery got an extra lottery ball in the 2005 lottery following the cancellation of the 2004-05 season — that extra lottery ball helped them get Crosby).

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.

Nikita Kucherov’s $76 million extension with Lightning is a bargain

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While we wait to see how the Erik Karlsson situation is figured out, Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning are going about their business. On Tuesday, it was announced that they’ve re-signed forward Nikita Kucherov to an eight-year, $76 million extension.

“I’m truly grateful to sign this contract extension to keep me in Tampa for the next eight seasons today,” Kucherov said in a statement. “I’d like to thank the Lightning organization and all of the fans for the support since making the Bay Area my home.”

Kucherov has one year left on his current deal, which will pay him $5.55 million this coming season. According to Joe Smith of The Athletic, the extension has a full no-trade claude in the first four years.

The max deal for Kucherov means he’s one of five Lightning players — with Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh — signed through the 2023-24 NHL season. The contract, which kicks in at the start of the 2019-20 season, will put him tied — for the moment — for the sixth-highest cap hit ($9.5 million average annual value) in the league, and yet it still seems like a bargain (not to mention Florida’s state tax situation).

Via the AP’s Stephen Whyno, here’s how the contract breaks down:

19-20: $1M salary/$11M bonus: $12M
20-21: $4M salary/$5M bonus: $9M
21-22: $3.5M salary/$8.5M bonus: $12M
22-23: $4M salary/$5M bonus: $9M
23-24: $5M salary/$5M bonus: $10M
24-25: $5M salary/$4M bonus: $9M
25-26: $5M salary/$3M bonus: $8M
26-27: $4M salary/$3M bonus: $7M

Over the last two seasons only Connor McDavid has more points (208) than Kucherov (185), and only Alex Ovechkin (82) and Patrik Laine (80) have more goals than the 25-year-old Russian (79) since the 2016-17 season.

With the ceiling continuing to rise, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Kucherov land an extension carrying a double-digit AAV. Yzerman has done a masterful job in Tampa navigating the tricky cap waters tying up his core pieces, while making some additions and still keeping the Lightning not only a playoff team but a Stanley Cup contender.

Here’s where the fun starts: Currently, the Lightning have a little over $65 million tied up in 12 players for the ’19-20 season, per Cap Friendly. Some major salary will have to go out if they’re to land Karlsson and sign him to a max extension. But given his history, it’d be hard to doubt Yzerman’s ability to make it work. The championship window remains open for the Lightning and won’t be closing any time soon.

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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.