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Long-term extension would make sense for Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson

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The Arizona Coyotes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are in talks about a possible eight-year contract extension that would carry a cap hit of a bit more than $8 million per season, according to Craig Morgan of ArizonaSports.com.

Do note that, whether a deal is actually close to be agreed upon or the situation is fluid, an extension wouldn’t become official until July, when “OEL” is first eligible for such a contract. (He’ll enter the final year of his current deal in 2018-19).

So, things could fall apart between now and then.

Still, such an extension could make a lot of sense for both the Swedish defenseman and the fledgling Coyotes. Let’s dive in under the assumption that an eight-year deal would cost (slightly?) more than $64M, which is essentially the extension Brent Burns signed with the San Jose Sharks in November 2016.

Peace of mind (and maybe some control?) for OEL

Ekman-Larsson (26, turning 27 on July 17) is currently on a deal with a $5.5M cap hit and $7M salary heading into 2018-19. OEL’s contract lacks a no-trade or no-movement clause, so if negotiations fell through, he could find himself in a less-than-desirable situation as a “rental.”

By signing a deal in that Burns range, he’d carry one of the biggest cap hits of any NHL defenseman, at least as of this writing (trailing P.K. Subban, but slightly more than Burns, Shea Weber, and Aaron Ekblad). Of course, as of this writing is the key phrase, but we’ll get to that in the Coyotes’ section.

OEL opting to sign that contract brings plenty of benefits:

  • Not needing to answer a bunch of questions about his contract year.
  • Avoiding the risk of an injury derailing/lowering his prospects of getting a new deal. Eight years is the maximum term, so OEL would land the most security possible, covering the next nine years of his career.
  • Speaking of years, the Coyotes are the only team that could sign him for eight. This could be advantageous for Ekman-Larsson even if things actually turned sour with Arizona, especially if he …
  • Possibly gets a no-trade or no-movement clause, gaining more say in his future, even if he loses the ultimate freedom of exploring the free agent market.

Yes, there’s a lot to like from OEL’s standpoint. So, what about the Coyotes?

Getting ahead of the gold rush for defensemen

Now, it’s worth noting that some key moments for soon-to-be-richer defensemen could happen in late June by way of trades at or around the 2018 NHL Draft on June 22. For all we know, Erik Karlsson could be traded from Ottawa, possibly accelerating his own schedule to sign an extension.

Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson are far from the only prominent defensemen who will enter 2018-19 as contract years (assuming they don’t sign extensions themselves). Karlsson and Drew Doughty aren’t shy about possibly driving up their own prices, maybe together. Ryan McDonagh isn’t setting the world on fire with the Lightning, but the market could still send piles of money his way consider the demand for defensemen and the scant supply of capable ones. Ryan Ellis is another defenseman worth watching if he rides things out with Nashville next season.

From OEL’s perspective, he’d avoid the threat of a potential buyers’ market. The Coyotes, on the other hand, might look at the very real potential for Doughty and Karlsson to command deals at or above Jack Eichel‘s extension, thus making $8M a reasonable, risk-reducing price.

Question of worth

Now, it’s fair to wonder if OEL would actually be worth $8M per season. Ekman-Larsson’s mostly been a strong possession player on a bad team, and his 85 goals since 2013-14 ranks second among defensemen. Still, he’s only passed the 50-point plateau once (2015-16), so he hasn’t necessarily had that “huge” year one might demand from a player seeking that big payday. (None of this is to say that he isn’t very good; instead, it’s just a reminder that big cash inspires big-time nitpicking.)

It’s tough to imagine him not being worth it for the Coyotes, though, so the debate feels a bit moot. Perhaps they’d be on firmer ground to grind something out if they won the draft lottery, but the fifth pick likely means adding another nice piece rather than a revolutionary one as Rasmus Dahlin is hyped to possibly be.

The Coyotes showed that they wanted to make the next step by trading for Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, and Niklas Hjalmarsson last summer. While the results weren’t quite what they hoped for in 2017-18, would they really want to take a step back by letting their best defenseman/player* go after next season?

Yes, with just about any big extension or contract, there are risks to consider, especially in a sport where a career-derailing injury could always be one hard collision away. It’s also plausible that Ekman-Larsson might buckle under the pressure of such a contract. Being labeled an “albatross” can really mess with an athlete’s head, even if they don’t get the reference.

All things considered, if the Coyotes and OEL agree to a deal along the lines of what Morgan reports, it would probably rank as an “everyone wins” situation.

Bonus points if Ekman-Larsson can actually, you know, help the Coyotes start winning.

* – Hey, for all we know, Clayton Keller could become “The Guy” in Arizona by next season.

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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.

Hellebuyck, Rinne and Vasilevskiy are 2018 Vezina Trophy finalists

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NHL Awards season is upon us and on Tuesday night the league announced the first group of finalists, revealing the top-three vote-getters for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL’s top goalie.

The NHL’s 31 general managers are responsible for voting for the Vezina, and this year their top-three includes Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets.

None of them have won the award before, but this will be Rinne’s fourth time as a finalist.

Now let’s take a look at the case for each goalie to win it.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case For Pekka Rinne: The case for Rinne is a pretty simple one — he has probably been the best goalie in the league this season and has done it for the league’s best team.

It is not like he was just along for the ride, either. He was a key part of that success.

Among goalies that played in at least 40 games this season his .927 save percentage was tied for the second best in the league (with Marc-Andre Fleury) and behind only Antti Raanta.

His .939 even-strength save percentage was the best in the NHL (again among goalies with at least 40 games played) while eight shutouts were also tied for the league lead.

As noted above this is his fourth time as a finalist after finishing second in 2010-11 and 2014-15 and third in 2011-12.

Given what he did for the Predators this season this might be his year to win it.

The Case For Connor Hellebuyck: After years of the the position being a black hole that consumed the franchise, the Winnipeg Jets finally received a great goaltending performance.

When combined with one of the league’s best offenses the result was a Jets team that finished the regular season with the NHL’s second-best record. Like Rinne, Hellebuyck was near the top of pretty much every key goaltending category.

His overall save percentage of .924 was fifth best in the league, as was his .929 even-strength mark. His .901 mark on the penalty kill was sixth best and highest among the three finalists.

His six shutouts were second in the league, while his 44 wins were the most among American-born goalies and tied for the league lead.

The Case For Andrei Vasilevskiy: For the first half of the season it seemed as if Vasilevskiy was going to run away with the award as he was pretty much unbeatable through the end of December.

After that his production regressed a bit — perhaps some fatigue in his first year as a full-time starter? — bu the still finished with a really strong season, finishing tied for the league lead in wins, tied for the league lead in shutouts, was sixth in even-strength save percentage and ninth in overall save percentage. Given how he slowed down in the second half it is a testament to how dominant he was over the first three months that he was able to finish so high in so many categories at the end of the year.

Out of the three Vasilveskiy probably has the weakest case but it was still a great showing for Vasilevskiy this season and a clear sign that the team has its long-term goalie in place.

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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.

Coyotes commit to Antti Raanta with three-year extension

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After four seasons of playing the backup role in Chicago and New York, Antti Raanta came to Arizona with the goal of owning the No. 1 goalie job for the Coyotes. He’s done just that and has been rewarded with a three-year extension, as 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s John Gambadoro reported Thursday night. The deal carries a $4.25 million cap hit, per TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

When the Coyotes decided against trading Raanta before the February trade deadline, which could have brought back assets to build on for the future, it was a clear sign they wanted to retain him going forward. In 45 starts this season, the 28-year-old netminder has posted a .935 even strength save percentage, and while the team has playing better of late, he’s put up a .952 in his last 25 starts.

While he was bothered by an early-season injury and banged up from a car accident, Raanta, who was acquired along with Derek Stepan via trade during the 2017 NHL draft, has managed to reach career highs in minutes and wins this season. With a young core that’s been gelling and productive since March 1, locking up the goaltending position is an important move for the franchise as the off-season arrives in the desert.

This summer could also see some answers develop in what the future holds for Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He’s eligible to sign an extension on July 1 as he enters the final year of his deal and the Swedish blue liner continues to express his happiness in Arizona.

“It’s just money. It’s not going to make you happier. It might make your life a little bit easier but it’s not going to make you happier,” Ekman-Larsson said last month when asked how big of a factor the dollar amount will be in his next contract. “I feel if you’re around good people, that’s what makes you happy. I feel like I have that here. This is where I want to be.”

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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.

The Buzzer: Hall of a night

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Players of the Night:

Taylor Hall: There are some great choices from Tuesday, but when you consider overall output and the importance of such production, Hall is up there. He extended his current point streak to nine games with a splendid two-goal, two-assist performance, greatly improving the Devils’ chances of making the playoffs.

Will Butcher was impressive in his own right, collecting two goals.

Also great scorers for teams in the hunt: Artemi Panarin scored one goal and two assists for the Columbus Blue Jackets, playing an integral role in their comeback win against Detroit. (Seth Jones also collected three assists). It’s only taken Panarin one season to set quite the milestone for the Blue Jackets franchise.

William Karlsson continues his sensational season for the Golden Knights, generating a goal and two assists of his own. He now has 43 goals and 78 points in 2017-18, and is heating up toward the postseason with an absurd 12 points in his last five contests.

Finally, Kyle Connor continues his fantastic work as a rookie for the Jets. Like Karlsson and Panarin, Connor collected a goal and two helpers, pushing his season total to 30. Maybe he can at least grab a slice of Patrik Laine‘s limelight?

Goalies impress: With 33 saves, Andrei Vasilevskiy collected his eighth shutout of 2017-18, tying Pekka Rinne for the NHL lead. Read more about his win with the Lightning here.

Roberto Luongo stopped 45 of 46 shots to keep Florida’s slim hopes alive tonight. Of course, some believe that he actually allowed two goals. That’s a whole thing. Finally, Antti Raanta continues his great work in “garbage time,” making 42 saves in Arizona’s win against Calgary.

(One guy who’s still absorbing being in “garbage time” who had a strong night was Jamie Benn. He generated a hat trick in the Stars’ rally against the Sharks.)

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Highlights

A day after the Sedins announced their retirement, they received a great ovation from Canucks fans. This is their second-to-last home game in Vancouver.

No surprise that other teams tip their caps to the Sedins.

Max Domi seems to be improving lately, and his mind games are on point.

Scores

Devils 5, Rangers 2
Islanders 5, Flyers 4
Blue Jackets 5, Red Wings 4 (OT)
Jets 5, Canadiens 4 (OT)
Lightning 4, Bruins 0
Panthers 2, Predators 1
Coyotes 4, Flames 1
Golden Knights 5, Canucks 4 (SO)
Stars 4, Sharks 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.

The Buzzer: Karlsson’s killer clincher for Vegas; Lucic fights Glass

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Clinching

  • The Vegas Golden Knights probably couldn’t have clinched the Pacific Division in a more fitting way: on a dramatic, shorthanded goal by William Karlsson. Karlsson scored his 42nd goal of 2017-18 with incredible style, confounding Martin Jones with a ridiculous between-the-legs shot. See that goal in the highlight of the night section.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins will be able to defend their repeat title (in other words, go for a “threepeat”) after clinching their 12th consecutive trip to the playoffs.
  • Nashville wasn’t able to clinch the Central Division, but the Winnipeg Jets will finish no worse than second after winning against Toronto. So, a franchise without a single playoff win will get at least one round of home-ice advantage.
  • Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The Stars kept their slim odds alive.

Injury concerns

Ryan Suter, Viktor Arvidsson, Travis Dermott, Brandon Carlo, and Victor Antipin rank among players with injury worries. Find out more here and here.

Highlights of the Night

This Karlsson goal is just ridiculous.

Let’s watch it from another angle.

There were a lot of ugly moments for Nashville in its 7-4 loss to Buffalo, with Scott Hartnell hurting Victor Antipin. This was pretty, however:

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Players of the Night

  • Jack Eichel collected a ridiculous five assists in Buffalo’s win against Nashville, crossing the 100-assist barrier for his career. Sam Reinhart generated a hat trick for the Sabres, too.

  • Antti Raanta collected a 34-save shutout as the Coyotes shocked the Blues 6-0. Solid night for spoilers.
  • The Blue Jackets lost in overtime, but don’t blame their top guys. Seth Jones scored a goal and three assists while Artemi Panarin collected four helpers as Columbus generated a key standing point.

Heavyweight bout

It hasn’t been a great season for Milan Lucic, but hey, at least he handled heavyweight bruiser Tanner Glass in this brutal fight:

Scores

Bruins 5, Panthers 1
Red Wings 2, Senators 0
Canucks 5, Blue Jackets 4 (OT)
Jets 3, Maple Leafs 1
Devils 4, Islanders 3
Penguins 5, Canadiens 2
Rangers 2, Hurricanes 1
Sabres 7, Predators 4
Stars 4, Wild 1
Coyotes 6, Blues 0
Flames 3, Oilers 2
Golden Knights 3, Sharks 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.