Chandler Stephenson

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

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.

Binnington, Trouba rank as most interesting salary arbitration cases

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NHL players usually don’t make it all the way through the salary arbitration process, but the deadlines involved often push teams, players, and agents to hash something out — sometimes within hours of a potentially contentious hearing.

Few of the 40 players who elected to go to salary arbitration will actually make it all the way there; Malcolm Subban‘s already off the list as of Tuesday, July 9. Still, with names like Jordan Binnington, Jacob Trouba, David Rittich, and Will Butcher among those who filed, the list is relevant, whether the deadlines speed up the process or the teams face the unenviable task of talking down their respective values without burning bridges.

You can see the list, with dates, at the bottom of this post. It’s notable not just that Binnington is on it, but that he’s set to go on July 20, the first day of a process that runs through Aug. 4.

Before you get to the full list, consider some of the most intriguing players who filed.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Jordan Binnington: As we’ve discussed at PHT, it’s difficult to find easy parallels for the Stanley Cup success story, who will turn 26 on July 11.

Binnington was sensational as a driving force of the Blues’ historic turnaround to their first-ever Stanley Cup, going 24-5-1 (!) with a sparkling .927 save percentage during the regular season. While his postseason save percentage dipped to .914, he was a rock for the Blues, getting stronger as each series went along. That point was made clearest in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, as he made the difference as St. Louis beat the Bruins in Boston.

Binnington’s side could easily lead with the argument: “Well, how much is a Stanley Cup worth to you?”

The Blues’ side isn’t outrageous, either.

Binnington now only has 33 regular-season games (plus 26 playoff games) on his NHL resume, which isn’t much for a soon-to-be 26-year-old. Part of Binnington’s Cinderella story is that he struggled to gain opportunities, even at lower levels. While fairly impressive stats in the AHL and at other levels argue that Binnington probably deserved more looks, St. Louis could still argue his side down based on a small sample size.

It’s tough to imagine the Blues wanting to go too deep into pessimism here, though, and it would probably behoove them to strike a deal before an arbitrator gets to see GIFs of Binnington making breathtaking, Cup-winning saves.

(GIFs should totally be involved in these processes, in my opinion.)

Quite a few Blues runs have been derailed by bad goaltending, leaving fans to wonder what might happen if they finally got that guy who could make stops. Cap management is important, but at some point, you just have to stop messing with a good thing … even if it remains to be seen if Binnington can come close to duplicating this success.

Jacob Trouba: The Rangers gained Trouba’s rights, but being that he’s one of the rare players to go deep into the process, as Trouba did with Jets in 2018, New York probably realizes that it might not be easy to nickel-and-dime the defenseman.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports that a contract could be mammoth: something in the seven year range term-wise, with a cap hit that could be well above $7M.

Trouba’s time with Winnipeg has occasionally dulled his stats, as he’s battled Dustin Byfuglien and even Tyler Myers for certain opportunities. Perhaps the Rangers could sand away a hearing with a focus on previous efforts, but with Trouba managing 50 points this past season, that might not go far. Really, the Rangers probably want to lock him up long-term, so it would be surprising if they’d want to risk souring anything with Trouba, especially since the Jets situation spoiled long ago.

The Rangers also have to realize that Trouba is comfortable exploring whatever limited options his RFA rights provide.

David Rittich: Is Rittich the Flames’ goalie of the future, or will he lose out even to Cam Talbot next season? “Big Save Dave” showed some flashes of brilliance, yet he ceded key late starts to Mike Smith in 2018-19, and his .911 save percentage won’t set hearings on fire.

Hearing or not, his next contract should be intriguing. Would Calgary want to try to find a bargain by handing out a little more term, or would both sides be comfortable with a one or two-year “prove it” type deal?

Will Butcher: The Devils would likely hope that arbitrators use less sophisticated stats (Butcher was a -17 in 2018-19) than the fancy variety, as he was impressive from an analytics standpoint, especially compared to Devils teammates.

With 30 points and a healthy 19:16 TOI average, Butcher is clearly an emerging talent. It might be worth the risk to lock him up for more term than what is normally handed out in hearings where a compromise is the goal, rather than a long-term pact.

There are some other interesting names on this list. How much of the Bruins’ precious cap space will be eaten up by Danton Heinen? What goes to current Ranger Pavel Buchnevich, not to mention former Ranger and Trouba trade element Neal Pionk?

Here’s the full list, with dates:

July 20
Joel Armia
Jordan Binnington
Jason Dickinson
Alex Iafallo
Brock McGinn
Malcolm Subban (signed)

July 21
Andrew Copp

July 22
Zach Aston-Reese
Christian Djoos
Ville Husso
MacKenzie Weegar

July 23
Evan Rodrigues

July 24
Neal Pionk
Oskar Sundqvist

July 25
Connor Carrick
Jacob Trouba

July 26
Colton Sissons

July 27
Sam Bennett
Chase DeLeo

July 28
Mirco Mueller

July 29
Pavel Buchnevich
David Rittich

July 30
Scott Laughton

July 31
J.T. Compher

August 1
Remi Elie
Ryan Lomberg
Chandler Stephenson

August 2
Will Butcher
Charles Hudon
Linus Ullmark

August 3
Danton Heinen
Artturi Lehkonen

August 4
Sheldon Dries
Joel Edmundson
Anton Forsberg
Rocco Grimaldi
Jake McCabe
Rinat Valiev

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.

Binnington, Trouba, Heinen among 40 players to file for salary arbitration

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Friday was the deadline for arbitration eligible restricted free agents to file for salary arbitration.

There were 40 players that elected to go that route.

The most notable players to file were St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup winning goalie Jordan Binnington, recently acquired New York Rangers defender Jacob Trouba, and Boston Bruins forward Danton Heinen.

Binnington’s arbitration case would be by far the most interesting one if it reaches that point.

On one hand, he is still a bit of an unknown having played just 59 games (regular season and playoffs combined) in the NHL at the age of 25, so anything the Blues give him on a long-term contract would be a bit of a gamble. But he did help turn the Blues’ season around and backstopped the team to its ever first ever Stanley Cup so he has a pretty strong argument in his corner.

Hearing dates have yet to be set, but teams can continue to work on new contracts with each player in an effort to avoid arbitration.

Most of these players will end up being signed before they have to reach arbitration as neither side ever wants to go through the unpleasantness that those hearings can create.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Anaheim Ducks
Chase De Leo

Boston Bruins
Danton Heinen

Buffalo Sabres
Remi Elie
Jake McCabe
Evan Rodrigues
Linus Ullmark

Calgary Flames
Sam Bennett
Ryan Lomberg
David Rittich
Rinat Valiev

Carolina Hurricanes
Anton Forsberg
Brock McGinn

Colorado Avalanche
J.T. Compher
Sheldon Dries
Ryan Graves

Dallas Stars
Jason Dickinson

Florida Panthers
MacKenzie Weegar

Los Angeles Kings
Alex Iafallo

Montreal Canadiens
Joel Armia
Charles Hudon
Artturi Lehkonen

Nashville Predators
Rocco Grimaldi
Colton Sissons

New Jersey Devils
Will Butcher
Connor Carrick
Mirco Mueller

New York Rangers
Pavel Buchnevich
Jacob Trouba

Philadelphia Flyers
Scott Laughton

Pittsburgh Penguins
Zach Aston-Reese

St. Louis Blues
Jordan Binnington
Joel Edmundson
Zach Sanford
Oskar Sundqvist

Tampa Bay Lightning
Cedric Paquette (signed after filing)

Vegas Golden Knights
Malcolm Subban

Washington Capitals
Christian Djoos
Chandler Stephenson

Winnipeg Jets
Andrew Copp
Neal Pionk

UPDATE: The NHLPA has released the schedule for these hearings which run from July 20 to Aug. 4.

Capitals face tough salary cap questions after re-signing Hagelin

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The Washington Capitals made a shrewd move in trading away Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas, as the deal made Washington younger, cheaper, and possibly even better on defense. They used some of that newfound cap space to re-sign Carl Hagelin on Sunday, but the deal makes you wonder who might get lost in the salary cap shuffle.

First, the deal: the Capitals signed Hagelin, 30, to a four-year contract worth $11 million, which clocks in at a $2.75M cap hit.

The Capitals acquired Hagelin in a trade from the Los Angeles Kings that costs Washington its 2019 third-rounder (89th overall, via Cap Friendly). There was a conditional sixth-rounder, but the conditions were not met.

Hagelin’s speed and possession game proved to be a very nice fit for the Capitals, although his already declining offense may only sag more if the Swede hits the aging curve hard.

Hagelin went from the Penguins to the Kings, and then the Kings to the Capitals this season. He generated five goals and 19 points over 58 regular-season games, with his best work coming in Washington (three goals, 11 points in 20 games). Hagelin only managed an assist during Washington’s seven-game Round 1 series against the Hurricanes.

At this point in his career, it’s not as much about the points. Instead, it’s about Hagelin’s foot speed and overall play, two factors that are clearly very appealing to the Caps.

Overall, this is a reasonable deal, albeit with some concern over term.

The other concern, again, is who might this push out of Washington? Even with the considerable money savings from getting rid of Niskanen’s $5.75M for Gudas ($2.345M after Philly retained some salary), the Capitals have some decisions to make.

According to Cap Friendly, the Capitals have about $10.736M in cap space remaining, at least if the ceiling ends up being $83M. (Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that there are at least some rumblings about it being closer to $82M, depending upon how escrow works out.)

The Capitals’ $72.264M in spending goes to 17 roster spots, and there are some substantial players who need new deals, or will hit the free agent market.

RFAs

UFAs

Things have been tumultuous with Burakovsky, but the 24-year-old is a nice talent. Would the Capitals lean toward moving his rights, or try to find a bridge deal?

The Capitals at least have Burakovsky as an RFA, although he is arbitration-eligible. The tougher situation might be with Connolly, who would be a UFA at 27. Connolly’s shown why he was a first-rounder (sixth overall by the Lightning in 2010), as he scored 22 goals and 46 points in 51 games last season. Those numbers are strong out of context, but they’re remarkable when you realize that Connolly only averaged 13:20 TOI per game in 2018-19.

For some context, Connolly generated 2.66 points per 60 minutes at even-strength this season, according to Natural Stat Trick. Connolly’s points-per-minute rate was the 18th-best in the NHL this past season for players who logged at least 100 minutes, better than Evgeny Kuznetsov (2.47) and Alex Ovechkin (2.39).

(Interestingly, Hagelin is the only Capitals player who generated a better rate, at least if you limit it to the 20 games he played with the Capitals, as Hagelin scored 2.72 points-per-60.)

So, more than worries about Hagelin aging – which will happen, but we’ll see how detrimental that process will be – the real misgiving would be wondering who can’t stay because Hagelin stayed put.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that Hagelin means no Connolly, or no Burakovsky. It’s plausible that Connolly, in particular, was going to be a luxury Washington would need to say goodbye to, no matter what. Sometimes that’s just the painful reality of the salary cap era.

Still, Hagelin’s taking up $2.75M from 2019-20 through 2022-23, so it does cost Washington that much space.

Overall, the Capitals’ situation remains challenging, and it really solidifies the thought that they really needed to part ways with Niskanen. Not only did they go cheaper for 2019-20, but Gudas’ contract runs out after next season, while Washington would have been on the hook for Niskanen at $5.75M through 2020-21.

That’s highly important, because two prominent Capitals enter contract years in 2019-20: Braden Holtby (29, $6.1M) and Nicklas Backstrom (31, $6.7M).

Unless the Capitals have something bold planned, such as a rather severe leap from goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov, you’d think both Holtby and Backstrom would be getting big raises.

So that makes a difficult situation even more complicated, as the Capitals don’t want to tie up too much money when those bargain contracts are coming up. Heck, even Alex Ovechkin’s situation will be something to watch, as the 33-year-old’s seemingly eternal $9.54M cap hit runs out after 2020-21.

In other words, the Capitals provided an answer by re-signing Hagelin, but they have plenty of other, tougher questions lingering, and by opening that window, they might have closed a door for another would-be player.

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.

10 stunning numbers from the 2018-19 NHL regular season

Throughout the 2018-19 regular season we have looked at some stunning numbers from around NHL.

What stood out to us most as the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin?

Let’s take a look…

1. Goal scoring goes up again. The average NHL game featured 5.96 goals per game this season, the highest it has been since the 2005-06 season when the league topped the six-goal per game mark coming out of the 2005 lockout.

If you remember, that was the year penalties skyrocketed around the league with the crackdown on obstruction and interference.

There are a lot of possibilities for the recent increase, including the smaller goalie gear to the continuation of 3-on-3 overtime, to any number of smaller changes in the league. It is never any one thing that leads to drops in scoring, and it is never any one thing that leads to increases. A lot of times it is simply a lot of smaller changes that add up into big changes, and there have been a few in the NHL in recent years with the goalies and overtime rules.

2. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Edmonton Oilers’ teammates finished second and fourth respectively in the NHL scoring race, the first time a pair of teammates finished in the top-five since Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf did it for the Anaheim Ducks during the 2013-14 season.

It is the 15th time it has happened in the past 20 years.

What is stunning about it is the Oilers are only the third team out of that group to have actually missed the playoffs with two top-five scorers on their roster.

Two of the teams reached the Stanley Cup Final (one of them won it), three others went as far as the Conference Final, there was a Presidents’ Trophy winner, and a handful of teams that at least made it to Round 2.

The full list over the past 20 years:

Edmonton: 2018-19: Missed Playoffs
Anaheim 2013-14: Reached Round 2
Tampa Bay 2012-13: Missed playoffs
Tampa Bay 2010-11: Reached Eastern Conference Final
Vancouver 2010-11: Reached Stanley Cup Final
Washington 2009-10: Won Presidents’ Trophy, lost Round 1
Pittsburgh 2008-09: Won Stanley Cup
Tampa Bay 2006-07: Lost Round 1
Ottawa 2005-06: Reached Round 2
Colorado 2002-03: Lost Round 1
Vancouver 2001-02: Lost Round 1
Pittsburgh 2000-01: Reached Eastern Conference Final
Anaheim 1999-00: Lost Round 1
Anaheim 1998-99: Missed playoffs
Colorado 1998-99: Reached Western Conference Final

3. A big year for milestones. Alex Ovechkin and Draisaitl both hit the 50-goal mark this season, making it the first time since the 2011-12 season that two players did it in the same season. Draisaitl is also the first player other than Ovechkin to score 50 goals in a season since that year. There have only been 12 50-goal seasons over the past decade. Six of them belong to Ovechkin, two belong to Steven Stamkos, and Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, and Draisaitl all have one each.

There were also six player to top the 100-point mark, the most to do it in one year since the 2006-07 season when seven players did it.

4. All of the Lightning’s dominance. The Lightning’s 62 wins tied the NHL record for most wins in a single season, while their 3.89 goals per game average was the 20th best single season mark since 1990. All 19 teams ahead of them played between 1990 and 1995, just before the start of the NHL’s Dead Puck Era. They are one of only three teams in the top-40 that played after 1995.

Their 28.2 percent success rate on the power play was also the 10th best in NHL history. The nine teams ahead of them and the seven immediately after them all played in the 1970s or 1980s.

Not enough dominance? They became the first team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins to feature three 40-goal scorers in the same season (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point).

5. Chandler Stephenson‘s historically clean season: The Capitals forward appeared in 64 games this season and did not take a single penalty, the only player in the league to play at least 60 games and not spend one minute in the penalty box. He is one of just 16 players in NHL history to play at least 60 games in a season and not take a penalty, and the first since Butch Goring during the 1980-81 season.

Dallas’ Valeri Nichushkin was close to joining him, going 57 games without a penalty (or a goal!).

6. Aleksander Barkov‘s penalty dominance. We know Barkov is one of the game’s best players thanks to his combination of shutdown defense and now dominant offense, but he is consistently one of the league’s most valuable players in terms of giving his team’s a special teams advantage. Barkov drew 35 penalties this season while only being called for, a penalty differential of plus-31, the best in the league.

Other players that excelled in this area include Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson (plus-28), Carolina’s Warren Foegele (plus-22), and New Jersey’s Nico Hischier (plus-19).

7. The Islanders succeeded in going worst to first. No team in the NHL gave up more goals than the New York Islanders during the 2017-18 season, and no team gave up fewer goals during the 2018-19 season. They improved their goals against number by 102 goals in one season. That is more than stunning, it is completely insane. Read more here on how they did it.

8. Fighting is still rapidly going away. Anyone that is paying attention to the evolution of the NHL game knows that fighting is quickly disappearing from the sport, but you might be shocked as to just how much it is going away. There was not one player in the NHL this season that dropped the gloves more than six times (there were 10). Only three teams (Boston, New York Rangers, Ottawa) had more than 20 fights for the entire season.

9. Drew Doughty‘s ugly season. From the moment he arrived in the NHL Doughty has been one of the NHL’s best defensive players. Between 2008-09 and 2017-18 there were only eight defenders in the NHL that had a better plus-minus than his plus-93. Say what you want about plus-minus (I know the flaws), but anyone that can play nearly a decade and be that far on the plus side in goals is probably pretty solid. This season? He finished as a minus-34, the second worst mark in the entire league, ahead of only Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. A lot of that is due to playing the most minutes on a lousy team whose starting goalie had a terrible year, but it is still unheard of to see Doughty that far down the list.

10. A stunning shootout stat. There were four teams that did not win a game in a shootout this season (the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks, and Ottawa Senators). Before this season there were only five teams in the entire shootout era that went a full season without a shootout win, and two of them came during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. You can probably credit 3-on-3 overtime for that stat.

The Maple Leafs were only involved in two shootouts total this season, and both of them came in the final two weeks of the regular season.

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.