Getty

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

3 Comments

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.

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Futures of Thornton, Kane among key questions for Sharks

Getty
4 Comments

With long-term commitments to Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Martin Jones (not to mention some mid-term deals for less prominent pieces), the San Jose Sharks are largely “set” on defense and in net. They even have backup goalie Aaron Dell locked up through 2019-20.

Things get almost as fuzzy as Joe Thornton‘s beard when it comes to the futures of their forwards, though.

Plenty of questions lingered as members of the Sharks addressed the media on Tuesday.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For one thing, it’s more than reasonable to wonder about how viable Thornton can be. This isn’t as much about his age alone (38, turning 39 in July), but how much can be expected of “Jumbo Joe” after tearing up each of his knees.

In 2016-17, Thornton dealt with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. It turns out that his 2017-18 season was derailed by a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee, as he told reporters including the Athletic’s Kevin Kurz. Yikes.

On the bright side, it sounds like Thornton is willing to be flexible when it comes to making things work with San Jose. The Mercury News’ Paul Gackle is among those who report that Thornton said he’d be willing to a) take a one-year deal and b) accept a cut from the $8 million he received last season.

And that’s where things get fun, at least if you’re a nerd for armchair GM/”franchise mode” discussions. Via Cap Friendly, the Sharks have about $60.49 million committed to their 2018-19 cap as of this moment. With next year’s ceiling expected to be somewhere between $78-82M, that’s ample room for the Sharks to make some interesting moves.

Joe and Evander

On one hand, that could open the door for the Sharks to bring both Thornton and Evander Kane back while also making some other, smaller moves.

There’s a scenario where that could really work for the Sharks. Considering the chemistry Kane developed with Joe Pavelski, the Sharks could have Thornton carry a line, roll with Kane – Pavelski, and then ask Logan Couture to exploit some matchup issues. They could also load up in different ways, maybe putting Pavelski and Kane with Thornton.

The most tantalizing thing for San Jose is that there’s another scenario that could work out even better, at least on paper.

The inevitable Tavares talk

Now, just about any NHL team with a shot at John Tavares should pursue him. It’s a stance that we might as well copy-and-paste at this point. Still, the Sharks hold some key advantages over other pursuers, and they’ve earned specific mentions as an interested party.

Heck, the connection’s been made for more than a year.

They have ample cap space not only to sign Tavares, but also to make some other moves to supplement their group. If Tavares leaves the New York Islanders – a big if, by the way – he’d likely justify such a decision by trying to give himself the best opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. The Sharks stand among the better “win now” teams who also have space to add Tavares. They don’t need to make trades to clear up space for him, either. That’s rare.

It’s to the point that, to some Islanders fans, it might become an irritating meme.

If the Sharks believe they have a real chance at Tavares, they might find themselves delaying other decisions. That’s what happens when you can add the sort of player who not only has a chance to change your fortunes, but perhaps one who could take up close to 20 percent of your cap space.

There’s some precedent to bigger name free agents taking at least a few days to make their big choices. Brad Richards did it, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter added some suspense, and there were even times when things dragged out months when contract details needed to be ironed out, such as when the Devils loophole’d their way to Ilya Kovalchuk. Tavares might want a few nights to sleep on a decision.

Along with that, the Sharks will probably want to really get an idea of how much Thornton has left in the tank. If Evander Kane believes he can get a great deal on the open market, that might mean that his days with San Jose are numbered, even though there were signs that there was a good fit (especially for Kane).

The ripple effects could go beyond 2018-19, too.

Extensions possible

The Sharks also get their first chances to make extension decisions/offers regarding Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. The two forwards will see their matching $6M cap hits expire after next season, so if San Jose wants to lock them up long-term, they can do so as early as July.

The relief is that Thornton’s willing to go one year, so those decisions would not need to clash.

A possible Tavares addition makes that more complicated, though such an addition may also help the Sharks to convince one or more parties to take a little less money. Maybe.

(We’ve seen Connor McDavid take less than the max, so hockey players make that call at times, whether they actually should or not.)

San Jose does have to mull over the risk/reward regarding a roster that could get old fast, however. Couture turned 29 in March, so he’d be 30 before an extension would kick in. Pavelski is already 33 and will turn 34 in July. Burns is 33 and Vlasic is 31. Kane is relatively young compared to that group at 26, but sometimes snipers age that much more dramatically.

***

These are all situations for GM Doug Wilson to mull over, although the Tavares situation would be a rubber stamp for any executive even halfway worthy of having the gig.

If Tavares is an unrealistic dream – and, again, it’s very dangerous to assume that he won’t stick with the Isles – then the good news is that the Sharks still have space to bring back some key players, maybe dabble in free agency, and maybe even try to make a splashy trade or two.

Falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round might be the sort of thing that gets the Sharks in a Twitter squabble with the Kings, but there could be some really interesting possibilities in this franchise’s future. Wilson just needs to make the right moves … and maybe enjoy some good luck.

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.

Marcus Sorensen continues to surprise in playoffs

3 Comments

The San Jose Sharks are two wins away from making it back to the Western Conference Final. They’re in this position because they’ve received contributions from their go-to players like Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane and Martin Jones. One the players that’s exceeded expectations is Marcus Sorensen.

After scoring five goals and two assists in 32 games during the regular season, the 26-year-old has already racked up four goals and one assist in eight games this postseason. He didn’t even make the team out of training camp, as he started the year with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. Sorensen posted 18 points in 23 games in the minors, which led to him being recalled in early December. Once he arrived in the NHL, he was made a healthy scratch 15 times between Dec. 2 and Mar. 27. He suited up for the final five games of the regular season and he hasn’t been out of lineup since.

Despite his increased production in the postseason, Sorensen hasn’t been receiving more ice time from head coach Peter DeBoer (he averaged 10:08 in the regular season and 10:16 in the playoffs). Still, he’s managed to remain productive.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

During Wednesday’s Game 4 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, Sorensen opened the scoring with this terrific individual effort:

Outside of simply producing offensively, he’s also managed to use his speed to his advantage by creating scoring opportunities for his team.

Even though he’s never really been productive at the NHL level, Sorensen has put up numbers in the past. He accumulated 32 points in 50 games with Sweden’s Djugardens in 2014-15 and 15 goals and 34 points in 47 games with them the following season. So there’s a bit of an offensive pedigree there.

Sorensen won’t be able to sustain his shooting percentage of 50 percent, but his advanced stats have improved from the season to the playoffs. His CF% has gone from 48.71 percent to 53.33 percent and his FF% has climbed from 48.61 percent to 56.52 percent. His PDO of 1.135 would indicate that his offensive totals aren’t sustainable. Even if he doesn’t continue scoring, it looks like he’s earned himself a spot in the lineup.

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.

The Buzzer: Couture the OT hero for Sharks; Bruins’ top line keeps scoring

Getty Images
8 Comments

Boston Bruins 6, Tampa Bay Lightning 2 (Bruins lead series 1-0)

The Bruins’ top line continued scoring as Boston took Game 1, 6-2 over Tampa. The line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak ran all over the Lightning, combining for three goals and 11 points. Rick Nash also chipped in with a pair of goals. Tuukka Rask finished with 34 saves. He would have had a 35th, but his skate blade fell off, preventing him from stopping Mikhail Sergachev’s goal in the second period.

San Jose Sharks 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3 – 2OT (Series tied 1-1)

Logan Couture‘s second goal of the game in double overtime helped the Sharks even their series with the Golden Knights. Vegas took a 2-0 lead early in the second period thanks to a pair of William Karlsson goals, but San Jose roared back with three in the span of 12:07. Nate Schmidt would score in the third to force overtime and the Golden Knights thought they had the game won following Jonathan Marchessault‘s goal in overtime, but the NHL Situation Room overturned the call due to goaltender interference.

Three Stars
1. Logan Couture – For obvious reasons. The goal was the second OT winner of his playoff career and he now has 12 career postseason game-winning goals, third all-time in Sharks history.

2. David Pastrnak – He didn’t score but he did help set up four Bruins goals, including Nash’s second of the game that would stand as the game winner. Pastrnak is now tied for third with five goals and leads all NHL players with 17 points.

3. Brent Burns – The Sharks defenseman scored twice during San Jose’s busy second period and would later grab an assist on Couture’s winner. He also ended up logging 36:48 of ice time through double OT.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Factoid of the Night

Sunday’s Schedule
Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals, 3 p.m. ET, NBC, live stream (Pens lead series 1-0)
Winnipeg Jets at Nashville Predators, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream (Jets lead series 1-0)

————

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.

Logan Couture plays savior as Sharks even series vs. Golden Knights

12 Comments

They needed double overtime, but the San Jose Sharks evened their series with the Vegas Golden Knights after a 4-3 victory in Game 2.

Logan Couture’s fourth goal of the playoffs, and San Jose’s third of the game following an offensive zone face-off win, was the difference 5:13 into the second overtime.

What allowed the Sharks that extra time and space was the fact that Golden Knights defenseman Jon Merrill was sitting in the penalty box serving a hooking minor. Couture’s goal was San Jose’s second power play tally of the game coming on their seventh man advantage of Game 2. 

That lack of discipline caused an early Vegas lead to slip away, and eventually cost them the game.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Twenty-six seconds into the second period, William Karlsson scored his second goal of the game and it was looking like another Golden Knights rout over Sharks following their 7-0 Game 1 win. But then Vegas got sloppy and undisciplined, and San Jose used it to slow them down.

Ninety seconds after Karlsson’s second goal, the Knights’ second-period penalty parade began with a David Perron holding the stick call. Four seconds later, the Sharks comeback began with the first of Brent Burns’ two goals to cut the lead to 2-1. Nine minutes later Couture would record his first of the night and Burns followed that up minutes later to flip the score to 3-2 in San Jose’s favor.

Vegas would give San Jose four power plays in the second period, stunting any positive momentum they were building throughout that middle 20 minutes. The Sharks would only capitalize once with the extra man in the second period — Burns’ first goal — but the Golden Knights’ inability to be careful with their sticks would be their downfall in Game 2.

It almost turned out differently for Vegas, however. The Golden Knights believed they had earned a 2-0 series lead after Jonathan Marchessault‘s goal late in the first overtime, but the NHL Situation Room determined that he had interfered with Sharks netminder Martin Jones before pouncing on a rebound in front.

“Win or lose, midnight is a new day,” he said afterward. “We all have to reset.”

Game 3 is Monday night in San Jose (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

————

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.