Clayton Keller

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Devils, Hischier agree to seven-year, $50.75 million extension

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While the Devils don’t know yet if Taylor Hall will sign an extension to remain in New Jersey or find a new home next summer in free agency, GM Ray Shero has young locked down one of the team’s core pieces.

On Friday, Nico Hischier agreed to a seven-year, $50.75 million extension that carries a $7.25 million cap hit through the 2026-27 NHL season. The deal buys three unrestricted free agent years since the Devils forward has been playing since he was 18, per Cap Friendly.

“Nico is a special person who possess a team-first mentality combined with an inner drive to succeed,” said Shero in a statement. The entire organization is thankful to him and his family for believing in our future. We are excited that he will continue to play a prominent role with us for many years to come.”

According to the Devils, here’s the year-by-year breakdown:

2020-21: $7,000,000 (includes $3 million signing bonus)
2021-22: $7,250,000
2022-23:  $4,500,000
2023-24:  $7,750,000
2024-25:  $7,750,000
2025-26:  $8,000,000
2026-27:  $8,500,000

The extension also features a modified no-trade clause in the final three years.

In 157 NHL games, Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has 37 goals and 101 points while averaging over 17 minutes a night. His offense has been just fine with a 20 and 17 goals in his first two seasons, but his two-way game is what’s really boosted his talent.

The 20-year-old center joins the list of NHLers who passed on restricted free agency in 2020 to put pen to paper on a new deal, joining the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Clayton Keller, Thomas Chabot, and Sam Girard.

Mathew Barzal, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Dylan Strome, and Mikhail Sergachev are some of the other potential 2020 RFAs who will be looking for extensions before next season.

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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.

Ice-cold Coyotes offense could get boost from Hayton’s debut

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Through their first two games of 2019-20, things seemed a lot like last season for the Arizona Coyotes.

They played strong defense, only allowing three goals total over those two games, but their offense has yet to ignite with Phil Kessel added to the mix, as they mustered a lone goal.

The Coyotes are likely feeling anxious considering the break they’ve had between Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins and Thursday’s upcoming home game against the Vegas Golden Knights. The most excited player of all might be Barrett Hayton, who is getting into the lineup for his first NHL game.

It seems like the 19-year-old is getting a legitimate chance to make an impact, too.

Via NHL.com’s handy collection of Thursday’s projected lines, Hayton is set to start his NHL career with some solid linemates in Christian Dvorak and Nick Schmaltz. (Interestingly, you could argue that all three could line up at center, depending upon the circumstances.)

According to Left Wing Lock, Hayton also might get a look on the Coyotes’ top power play unit with Kessel, Derek Stepan, Clayton Keller, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Depending upon how you look at it, that’s either a great opportunity for the fifth pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, or a trial by fire. (Or maybe it’s a combination of the two?)

While the Coyotes got mixed reviews for selecting Hayton at that position — at least with many penciling Filip Zadina in as the third best choice available, though he slid to Detroit at sixth — Hayton’s impressed since the Coyotes went out on a bit of a limb to choose him. In 39 games with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, Hayton scored 26 goals and 66 points, exceeding the 60 points he scored in the OHL in 2017-18, even though he played in 63 games that season. Hayton also managed 16 points in 11 playoff games at the junior level in 2018-19.

In September, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked Hayton as the 11th-best prospect in the NHL (sub required), ahead of the likes of the Golden Knights’ Cody Glass (16th) and Zadina (23).

So, it should be interesting to get a first look at where Hayton is at, especially since he’s slated for a top-six role, instead of just barely making it into the lineup on the fourth line.

The Coyotes could use the boost, too, with that lone goal in two games.

Some of that improvement should happen strictly from positive regression, mind you.

Arizona’s been solid-to-good at even-strength so far, with Natural Stat Trick listing them as having 4.28 expected goals vs. 3.3 expected goals allowed at five-on-five. A league-worst 1.67 shooting percentage at even-strength has doomed them through two games (Columbus is second worst at 3.85). Even if the Coyotes might lag a bit behind other teams from a shooting skill standpoint (their 6.61 even-strength percentage was the worst of 2018-19), they should get far more bounces over the long haul of this season, especially if Kessel clicks — and maybe if Hayton can catch on as another gamebreaker.

The Golden Knights aren’t necessarily the easiest opponents to stick with, but either way, it should be interesting to see how Hayton might keep up.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

McKenzie on Devils-Hischier contract talks, health of Flyers’ Patrick

Hockey insider Bob McKenzie stopped by the NBCSN studio during the first intermission of Devils – Flyers on Tuesday (a 4-0 win for Philadelphia), providing some interesting updates on the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft (Nico Hischier) and Nolan Patrick, who went second that same year.

Devils aim for extension with Hischier

McKenzie brought up some interesting comparables for Hischier, including Arizona Coyotes winger Clayton Keller (eight year extension with $7.15M AAV begins next season) and Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor (signed for seven years, $7.14M AAV this summer). McKenzie explains that, while Hischier might not have reached the same production heights as Connor or Keller when those two had been at their best, Hischier’s all-around game makes up some of the difference.

The Devils have some reason to show some haste. While there might be some sticker shock at being in that $7M stratosphere, Hischier could really drive up his perceived value if he enjoys a huge season with Taylor Hall on his wing. McKenzie wonders if Hischier might even push for a Mikko Rantanen-type deal ($9.2M AAV) if he has a big enough 2019-20.

With Hall in a contract year, the Devils could also get some cost certainty if they hash something out sooner, rather than later.

Of course, McKenzie describes this opportunity as a “platform year” for Hischier, who might benefit from waiting things out.

Migraine issues still fuzzy for Patrick

The Flyers are hoping to have impressive depth down the middle once Patrick can join Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes.

While McKenzie reports that there has been progress – Patrick didn’t travel overseas with the Flyers, but is expected to travel with the team in North America – it sounds like this is still a week-to-week thing for the 21-year-old.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Arizona Coyotes

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)
 
For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Better. The Coyotes made a splash when they acquired Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins this off-season. Assuming he comes in with the right attitude, Kessel alone makes the Coyotes a better team. The ‘Yotes haven’t had a sniper like him in a long time and head coach Rick Tocchet’s ability to get the most out of Kessel should help Arizona in a big way. Let’s not forget, this Coyotes team is young, too. So, there should be some internal progression as well.

Strengths: Arizona has quietly built up some solid depth down the middle of the ice. When healthy, Nick Schmaltz produced offensively, as he accumulated 14 points in his first 17 games with his new team. If he can keep that up, the Coyotes will be that much tougher to stop. They also have veterans like Derek Stepan and Carl Soderberg that will make important contributions this year. We’ve already talked about Kessel and what he brings to the table, but they also have other dynamic forwards on the wing like Clayton Keller and Christian Dvorak, too.

The Coyotes also have a deep blue line with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jakob Chychrun and Jason Demers. And their goaltending is stable with Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper.

[MORE: Under Pressure: Kessel | X-factor | Three questions]

Weaknesses: Overall depth might be an issue up front. Do they have enough players in the bottom-six that can contribute offensively when their offensive-minded players go quiet? Overall, this is a well-balanced team that could use more depth, but which team doesn’t need that?

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Let’s go with a four for Rick Tocchet. He’s not really on the hot seat going into the season, but his team also has to show some significant signs of improvement this year. They finished ninth in the Western Conference last year (they missed the playoffs by four points), so they have to improve this year or the seat will get hotter for Tocchet.

Three Most Fascinating Players: You can’t have a fascinating players section on the Coyotes roster and not talk about Kessel. We know what Kessel is capable of doing on the ice, but how will he mesh with his new teammates off the ice? Can he be the leader Arizona needs him to be? We’re starting to hear more and more about his fractured relationship with some of his old teammates in Pittsburgh. The Coyotes have to be hoping that something similar doesn’t happen to them.

Schmaltz is also an intriguing name. After being acquired from Chicago, he nearly scored at a point-per-game clip. Can he post similar numbers over an 82-game stretch? Schmaltz has all the talent to succeed at the NHL and now he has a golden opportunity to be one of the offensive catalysts on an up-and-coming roster that should push for a playoff spot this year.

The goaltending situation will also be something to keep an eye on. Raanta was limited to just 12 games last season after he had a career year in 2017-18. But once he was forced from the lineup Kuemper came in and did a nice job of keeping the Coyotes competitive. Does Raanta bounce back? Does Kuemper keep rolling? It might be a little bit of both.

Playoffs or Lottery: This is a tough one. It would be amazing to see the Coyotes sneak into the playoffs. The issue is finding which of the top eight teams they’ll finish ahead of this season. If the Rantanen hold out lasts long, can they sneak in ahead of Colorado, who finished in the last Wild Card spot last year? Maybe, but that’s still not a given. I think the Coyotes will miss the playoffs by less points (four) than they did last year.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Coyotes betting big on questionable core

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The Arizona Coyotes are the NHL’s strange beasts.

For years, they suffered through shoestring budgets as their ownership and arena woes continued into infinity. While there still seems to be some turmoil in that area – their majority owner once again changed this summer – they’re now becoming a team that raises your eyebrows for seemingly spending more than expected.

Wednesday’s announcement of Clayton Keller‘s eight-year, $57.2 million extension serves as the exclamation point on that sentence.

Consider the players who are now under long-term deals in Arizona:

Keller ($7.15M cap hit starting in 2020-21; runs through 2027-28): Many are pointing out that Keller’s contract now makes William Nylander‘s often-criticized deal look quite reasonable, while others groan that with Keller set to carry a $7.15M cap hit, it sets a higher floor for other RFAs, from Kyle Connor this summer to Nico Hischier entering his contract year.

As PHT’s writeup notes, the Coyotes are betting that the 21-year-old has a high ceiling, thus making this a signing with foresight.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($8.25M starting this season, goes through 2026-27): For quite some time, there was angst about OEL leaving the lowly Coyotes for greener pastures. Then the Coyotes sent all of that green his way, really setting the table for this run of early extensions, as they signed Ekman-Larsson at basically the first possible moment in July 2018.

So, the good news is that they kept the Swede in Arizona for the long-term future. The bad news is that it’s possible OEL might not be quite the difference-maker they’re paying for. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn listed Ekman-Larsson as an honorable mention for one of the worst contracts in the NHL (sub required).

None of this is to say that OEL is a bad player. Instead, it keeps with the theme that it seems like the Coyotes are paying premiums for players who haven’t yet produced truly premium all-around results.

Nick Schmaltz ($5.85M through 2025-26), Jakob Chychrun ($4.6M through 2024-25), Christian Dvorak ($4.45M through 2024-25): Again, these players aren’t necessarily “bad,” it’s just surprising to see so many of them get so much term without overly obvious savings right off the bat. It’s the sort of hastiness you’d expect from a team that’s been contending, not one that’s had money troubles for ages and has missed the playoffs for seven seasons in a row.

Beyond that questionable core, the Coyotes are also spending a considerable chunk of change on veteran players like Phil Kessel, Derek Stepan, Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antti Raanta, and Jason Demers.

Even if you give the Coyotes some leeway for absorbing Marian Hossa‘s dead contract, it’s honestly jarring that they technically are out of cap space heading into 2019-20, according to Cap Friendly.

Now, sure, this is a team that nearly made the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs despite a plague of injuries, and with all of this youth and the potential boost of Kessel’s sniping, could very well make it in 2019-20 — particularly in a Pacific Division that seems weak on paper.

Still, it remains a bit baffling that the Coyotes are spending this much for a team that doesn’t necessarily wow you with its overall talent.

That said, the Coyotes seem like they’re approaching RFAs as a market inefficiency, and if any players will prove your risks right, it’s young ones. While OEL is already 28, Keller is 21, Chychrun’s run of injuries make him a mystery of sorts at 21, and so on. As we’ve seen with Leon Draisaitl at $8.5M per year, seemingly shaky contracts can end up looking like steals, at least when it comes to players entering their primes.

The Coyotes have to hope this all works out as planned, as they’re gambling big on all of this term for young players, and some pretty big bucks for veterans.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.