Auston Matthews

Hertl’s contract already looking like bargain for Sharks

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Tomas Hertl has been one of the biggest stars for the San Jose Sharks this postseason, and that is helping to make him one of the biggest steals in the NHL under the salary cap.

Entering Game 2 of the Western Conference Final on Monday night (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream), Hertl finds himself near the top of the playoff leaderboards in goals and points while also scoring several season-saving goals for the Sharks, including a Game 6 overtime winner in Round 1 and two of the Sharks’ three goals during their third period Game 7 comeback.

That performance has also made him one of the current front-runners for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP (though he might have a tough time surpassing his teammate, Logan Couture, if the Sharks win it all) and comes on the heels of a breakout regular season performance that saw him take a massive step forward in his development and realize pretty much all of his potential.

It also happened in the first year of a four-year, $22.5 million contract that is well below what other comparable players are pulling in right now.

First, just look at the season that Hertl had.

He finished with a career high in goals (35), total points (74), while also recording a 54 percent Corsi percentage. The Sharks not only controlled the pace of play when he was on the ice, but he helped put the puck in the back of the net. A lot. Even better, he did the bulk of that damage at even-strength, not needing to rely only on a ton of power play production to boost his numbers.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That performance across the board put him in some pretty exclusive company among the NHL’s elite forwards.

Consider the following…

  • There were only 16 forwards in the entire NHL, including Hertl, that topped the 30-goal, 70-point, 53 percent Corsi marks this season. When you look at the salaries of those players, Hertl pretty clearly outperformed his contract.
  • Out of the 16 players in that group four of them (Sebastian Aho in Carolina, Mikko Rantanen in Colorado, Matthew Tkachuk in Calgary, and Auston Matthews in Toronto) were still on their entry-level contracts and making less than $1 million per season against the cap.
  • Among the remaining players that were beyond their entry-level deals there were only two of them that made less than $6 million per season against the cap — Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier, and Hertl. The average salary cap hit for those remaining players (not including Hertl) was $6.9 million per season. Hertl counted just $5.25 million against the Sharks’ cap.
  • It is also worth pointing out that the four entry-level players are all going to see significant bumps in their pay this summer that will put them well above the $6 million mark. Matthews already signed an $11 million per year deal, while Aho, Rantanen, and Tkachuk are all in a position to demand — and get — significant money.

In hindsight it is easy to look at that and think, wow, Hertl really sold himself short on that deal. If he continues to perform at the level he has shown throughout the regular season and playoffs he is definitely going to be playing on a well below-market contract.

But it was not that easy to see at the time of the deal.

When Hertl signed that contract this past summer he had not yet seen his play — or role — blossom the way it did this season. He was obviously a talented player with a lot of upside, and a pretty productive one. He was a fairly consistent 20-goal, 45-point player, and at that level of production was probably doing fairly well for himself at $5.25 million per season.

A lot of things went right for Hertl and the Sharks since then.

For one, he saw a pretty significant increase in his ice-time and went from being what was mostly a 16 or 17 minute per might player, to a 19-minute per night player. An extra two or three minutes per game over the course of a full season adds up, especially for a skilled player that is going to get more chances as a result of it.

He was also entering his age 25 season, which is usually when scorers tend to hit their peak level of production.

And then there was the fact he absolutely shot the lights out all year, scoring on 19.9 percent of his shots during the regular season and 16.4 percent of his shots in the playoffs. That is a significant jump for a player that is usually more of a 10-12 percent shooter. That spike in shooting percentage probably added another 10-12 goals to his total for the season. That number is also probably to regress next season, but even if it does the Sharks are still going to have what should be a 25-30 goal, 60-65 point, possession driving winger in the prime of his career on what still might be a below market contract.

Getting a top-line player for a million or two below the cap isn’t a total franchise-changing move, but every additional dollar helps when building the rest of your team around them. Especially when you are a team like the Sharks that has to deal with some pretty significant free agency questions this summer with Erik Karlsson and Joe Pavelski.

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.

Bruins’ goal overturned by review in Game 6

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However you feel about each call, plenty of hockey fans feel confused about what counts as goalie interference, and what’s closer to incidental contact.

During the first period of Game 6 between the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets, it seemed like Sean Kuraly gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead, but Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella successfully challenged the call. After a lengthy challenge review, it was determined that Joakim Nordstrom “impaired” Sergei Bobrovsky‘s “ability to play his position in the crease.”

You can judge the call for yourself in the video above this post’s headline.

 [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Whether you agree or disagree with the call, the bottom line is that Game 6 went back to 0-0, which remains the score as of this writing. The game is airing on NBCSN (Stream here).

Here’s the full explanation release from the NHL:

Bruins fans may be grumbling a bit extra, as there was a noteworthy goal that went against them. It seemed like Zach Hyman bumped Tuukka Rask before Auston Matthews‘ goal counted in Game 5 of that Round 1 series, but the review went Toronto’s way.

See at around the three-minute mark of the highlights:

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 Morning Skate: Isles melting down; Are Blues falling apart?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Did the Blues just have one off night in Dallas in Game 4 or is this the start of a long slump? (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• Stu Barnes’ experience has been a valuable asset for the Stars coaching staff. (NHL.com/Stars)

• This isn’t the first time Stars rookie Roope Hintz has had success in the postseason. (The Hockey News)

• Charles Glenn is doing his part to get the Blues fans in a frenzy during the singing of the national anthem. He’s hoping to earn a Stanley Cup ring before he retires at the end of the season. (NHL.com)

Jaccob Slavin doesn’t garner many headlines, but he’s found an effective way to use his stick while defending. (The Point Hockey)

• How much longer can the Hurricanes survive with a power play that doesn’t spark the team. (Canes Country)

• The Islanders went on a great run this season, but they’re starting melt down. (New York Post)

• When Joe Thornton has something to say, his teammates listen. (ESPN)

• The Detroit Red Wings released a statement on the passing of Red Kelly. (NHL.com/RedWings)

• What should the Golden Knights do to tweak their roster this summer? (Knights on Ice)

• Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is just as disappointed by his team’s early playoff exit as the fans are. (Tampa Bay Times)

• Did the Penguins have their best stretch of the season while Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang were out? Adam Gretz investigates. (Pensburgh)

Auston Matthews had some surgical hardware from a 2014 operation removed. This procedure isn’t expected to disrupt his off-season training. (Toronto Star)

• Former NHLer John Erskine was severely injured during a highway accident. (TSN)

• Tomahawk science has really helped Patrick Kane perform at a high level at the age of 30. (Forbes)

• Liz Knox explains why so many female hockey players are willing to boycott North American leagues. (The Ice Garden)

• It was an interesting season for Canucks goalie Michael DiPietro. (The Score)

• The New York Rangers signed defenseman Adam Fox, who they acquired from Carolina, to an entry-level deal. (Blue Shirt Banter)

Milan Lucic won’t rule out playing for the Canucks, but someone else should. (Vancourier)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Tarasenko takes over, Blues snag Game 1 vs. Stars

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If you needed a star player to score a big goal in a playoff game, who would you pick?

Most hockey fans would tab Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and other players who’ve already won at least a Stanley Cup. Maybe you’d lean toward Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, or Nikita Kucherov, if you wanted to mix things up.

St. Louis Blues fans would insist that Vladimir Tarasenko should be on the tip of your tongue, and in a tight 3-2 Game 1 win (and 1-0 series lead) for the Blues against the Dallas Stars, he added to his robust big-game resume.

(Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday; stream here.)

While Ben Bishop will be haunted by allowing the Blues 1-0 goal early in Game 1 via Robby Fabbri, you wonder if there’s only so much anyone could do to stop Tarasenko on both of his goals. In particular, Tarasenko showed why his nickname is “Tank” on his second goal, as he absolutely powered his way past Miro Heiskanen and roofed a fantastic goal by Bishop. Tarasenko simply would not be denied:

At the time, Tarasenko’s second goal of Game 1 made it 3-1, but with Jamie Benn scoring a strange 3-2 goal that survived a goal review after an ill-timed whistle, the Blues needed every one of those Tarasenko tallies. Tarasenko’s nicest goal of the evening ended up counting as the game-winner.

With this result, Tarasenko now has an outstanding 26 goals in his last 50 playoff games. That ties Tarasenko with Sidney Crosby for the fourth-most postseason goals since 2013-14, and Crosby hit that mark in 82 playoff contests. None of that is meant to insult Crosby; instead, the point is that Tarasenko’s been an absolute superstar in the postseason.

Interestingly, Tarasenko was pretty quiet in Round 1, only managing two goals in six games against the Winnipeg Jets. The Blues were carried by other players like Jaden Schwartz with Winnipeg’s top line carrying the way, but on Thursday, it was the Tarasenko show.

***

While it was a tough night at times for Bishop (who took a scary puck to the head), Jordan Binnington was a mix of brilliant and a touch scrambly. Binnington also felt some content during Game 1, as this scuffle began when the rookie goalie was bumped by Blake Comeau:

Binnington gave up a juicy rebound or three in Game 1, yet he really locked it down when Dallas tried to wage a comeback; Binnington stopped 16 out of 17 shots in the third period alone.

This loss stings, but the Stars can feel comfortable that they weren’t merely facing a struggling Predators team. Dallas was absolutely able to hang with a St. Louis squad that was a buzzsaw at times down the stretch this season, and honestly, the Stars sometimes looked flat-out better.

The Blues found a way to win Game 1, which in this case, meant riding Tarasenko’s dominant scoring and Binnington’s brilliant netminding. If this one was any indication, more wins against Dallas won’t come easy, so the Blues might need more of that from their biggest star, and their rising star in net.

The Stars will try to even up the series against the Blues as Game 2 takes place at the Enterprise Center on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET (NBC; stream here).

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.

Stunning numbers from insane Round 1 of Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Throughout the 2018-19 regular season we took an occasional look at some stunning numbers around the NHL.

We will continue that in the playoffs after each round and start it off today with a look at some truly stunning numbers from what was an insane two weeks of hockey.

Here is what we found.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Tampa Bay’s all-time clunker of a postseason

The Tampa Bay Lightning were the best team in the NHL during the regular season, tying a league record for most wins (62) and finishing with a league-best goal differential of plus-103.

That was more than 40 goals better than the second-best team in the league (Calgary at plus-62).

They followed it up in the playoffs by not winning a single game and getting outscored by a 19-8 margin, including 19-5 after the first period of Game 1.

How unfathomable was that performance? Not only were they first Presidents’ Trophy winning team to ever be swept, but they were also just the second team to ever win at least 50 games in the regular season and then fail to win even a single playoff game. The only other team to suffer that fate was the 2015-16 Chicago Blackhawks who won 50 regular season games and were swept by the Nashville Predators.

The Lightning are also the only team that has ever won at least 55 games and failed to win a playoff game. Just a bad performance all around.

[Related: Lightning have plenty of questions to answer after playoff failure]

Five minutes

Well, five minutes and 51 seconds to be exact.

What does that represent? The amount of time that the Pittsburgh Penguins spent playing with the lead in their Round 1 series against the New York Islanders. Even Tampa Bay had the lead for at least 48 minutes in its series sweep against Columbus.

It almost seems impossible to have that much talent and spend so little time ahead. It is even more astonishing when you realize the Penguins actually scored the first goal in three of the four games. They just immediately gave it right back every single time.

In Game 2 they allowed the game-tying goal just three minutes after Erik Gudbranson scored.

In Game 3 they allowed the tying goal less than a minute after Garrett Wilson scored.

In Game 4 they allowed the tying goal less than 90 seconds after Jake Guentzel scored.

And that was it.

At the other end of the spectrum, no team spent more time playing with the lead in Round 1 than the Vegas Golden Knights, 218:55 ahead of the San Jose Sharks. Boston was the only other team to spend more than 200 minutes ahead. Vegas still lost the series, which also seems hard to believe.

Auston Matthews mostly watches another Game 7

There are a lot of things you can criticize Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock for (not winning anything of significance in nearly a decade being near the top of the list) but his bizarre player usage has to be a big one right now. With the Maple Leafs’ season on the line in Game 7, a game they were trailing for more than 40 minutes, a game where they never had to kill a penalty, their best player saw the ice for only 18 minutes and 48 seconds. There is really no excuse for that, especially when this exact same thing happened a year ago when Matthews played only 18:06 in their Game 7 loss to the same Bruins teams. You are paying this guy more than $10 million per year to be your franchise player, how you do not ride or die with him with your season on the line is a mystery.

Nashville’s power play was a giant zero

Literally, a zero.

The Predators failed to score a power play goal against the Dallas Stars, going 0-for-15 in the six game series. It is only the 11th time in NHL history that a team had at least 15 power play opportunities in the playoffs and did not score a single goal.

This is a big reason they are not moving on, and a big area they will have to address over the summer.

Dallas’ top line dominance 

The other big reason the Stars were able to eliminate the Predators was the play of their top line. This wasn’t just a great series for the Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov trio, it was a complete beat down.

That trio played 50 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together and put up the following numbers:

Goals for-Goals Against: 5-0
Shot Attempt Share: 56.5 percent (73 for, 56 against)
Scoring Chance Share: 57.6 percent (49 for, 36 against)
High-Danger Scoring Chance Share: 65.0 percent (26 for, 14 against)

Sure makes things easier for everybody else when you have a line doing that to a team.

Warren Foegele, surprising offensive star for Hurricanes

The Hurricanes used a strong defensive effort and a balanced offensive attack to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. The surprising offensive star for them was 22-year-old Warren Foegele who scored four goals in the seven games. He did that after scoring just 10 goals during the entire regular season.

1.19 percent

That was the win probability, via MoneyPuck.com, for the San Jose Sharks when they were trailing, 3-0, with less than 10 minutes to play in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

It was at that point that everything was flipped upside down when Cody Eakin was given a controversial five-minute major for cross-checking, setting the stage for one of the wildest Game 7s you will ever see.

Brent Burns never seemed to leave the ice

The Sharks have two of the NHL’s best defensemen in Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, and they both logged a ton of minutes in their Round 1 over the Golden Knights. They were 1-2 in the NHL in time on ice, but Burns was on a level all his own. He averaged more than 30 minutes per game (nearly three minutes more than Karlsson, who was second) and played a total of 213:18. Nobody else in the first round played more than 190. That is a lot of ice time.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info
Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins
Hurricanes vs. Islanders
Blues vs. Stars
Avalanche vs. Sharks

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.