Craig Anderson

Three questions for Senators in 2019-20

1 Comment

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

Let’s take a look at three questions surrounding the Senators that don’t revolve around mercurial owner Eugene Melnyk.

1. Can D.J. Smith start building something?

Ideally, Smith will begin with Ottawa much like David Quinn started his time with the Rangers: as a coach with very limited expectations.

Honestly, it would probably be best if the Senators “lost respectably” in 2019-20. Score some goals, excite some fans, and maybe distract from the mess surrounding the team at times.

In the grand scheme of things, Smith will be able to help Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk to continue their ascent up the rankings among young NHL blue chippers, while also helping to develop the team’s more mid-range prospects. Bonus points if Smith can also put veteran players in the right situation for “pump and dumps” during the trade deadline, whether that means helping Craig Anderson maximize his value, or merely others in positions to succeed.

Basically, there are ways Smith can “succeed” even if the Senators don’t really win the battle on the scoreboard very often. They don’t seem to have the weapons necessary to light up many scoreboards, either way.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

2. What defines “success” for this team, in general?

And that really brings it to another question: what should Ottawa really be striving for?

Yes, there’s a chance that Smith innovates and this team overachieves, but even if that happens, what’s the ceiling for such situations?

The worst-case scenario might be that the Senators play so well that they end up in the playoff bubble, but can’t quite make it, so they also end up with a mediocre first-rounder. It would also be quite bad if a relatively competent Senators team inspired Pierre Dorion to decide against trading veterans who aren’t likely to be part of the future, from Anderson to Ron Hainsey to maybe even a more borderline case like Chris Tierney.

Yes, there’s some young talent in Ottawa, but they should be greedy and try to grab as much as they can. Especially since it’s unclear how many of their current prospects will actually move the needle. After watching the Avalanche use their fourth overall pick in 2019, the Senators could really use at least one more player in that range.

Being realistic about their chances is pretty important, and it’s part of what makes Dorion such an X-factor.

3. Can the Senators get some stops?

Despite having Mark Stone and Matt Duchene for a significant chunk of the 2018-19 season, the Senators still were outscored by 59 goals, allowing an NHL-worst 301.

Losing Stone, in particular, should make it that much tougher to keep the goal differential battle respectable, as Stone is one of those rare wingers who gets very deserved attention as a Selke candidate. On paper, there’s little reason to believe that Ottawa will be a particularly competitive team, especially with so many young players learning on the job.

Maybe D.J. Smith’s system might make life a little easier for Craig Anderson, though? Anderson suffered through some terrible play the past two seasons (.898 save percentage in 2017-18, not much better with .903 in 2018-19), yet the 38-year-old has had some great runs in the past, often when people least expected it.

Even with great goaltending, the Senators’ chances are limited, but it would probably do a lot for their collective psyche – and maybe even their young players’ development – if they could at least put up a fight most nights.

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.

Senators GM must manage rebuild — and Melnyk

Getty Images
2 Comments

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa handing Colin White a six-year, $28.5 million contract was more than just conveniently timed for Senators Day here at PHT. It was also a pivotal moment for a big Senators X-factor: GM Pierre Dorion.

To be more specific, this team’s future hinges on how Dorion manages the Senators’ rebuild … and in what might be an even bigger challenge: managing owner Eugene Melnyk.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | Three questions]

You don’t have to be an accountant to notice that, at least in the short term, the vast majority of the Senators’ moves have been about saving money. It’s to the point that people are already joking that White will be long gone from Ottawa before his actual salary peaks at $6.25M in 2024-25:

But that really was an eye-opening signing because it shows that Dorion can occasionally convince Melnyk to fork over dough for “core players.”

It will be interesting, then, to see how the rest of that core develops, as there are some other potentially pivotal contracts to sign, and Dorion will eventually need to add pieces, whether that means NHL-ready players through trades and free agency, or additional prospects through the volume of draft picks the team has (painfully) accumulated by trading away the likes of Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Matt Duchene.

Consider Thomas Chabot the next pressing test case. He’s entering the last year of his rookie contract, so will Ottawa get that done briskly, or will that situation linger ominously? There’s nightmare scenarios where another team poaches Chabot with an offer sheet, knowing that Melnyk seems allergic to signing bonuses.

Dorion truly needs Melnyk on board in cases like these, especially since more are on the horizon, notably with Brady Tkachuk‘s entry-level contract expiring after 2020-21.

There are a ton of factors that could sway things as time goes on, from Seattle’s expansion draft to possibly even a new CBA forming as the Senators’ rebuild goes along. Such thoughts might complicate things if Melnyk believes that a new CBA would be kinder to his wallet.

But, even in the shorter term, Dorion could make some interesting moves if he’s creative — and in cases like retaining salary to get trades done, if he can get Melnyk to buy in.

I’ve already argued that the Senators should embrace short-term pain for long-term gains, not unlike the Hurricanes absorbing Patrick Marleau’s buyout to land a first-round pick. That’s not to say Ottawa needs to clone such moves detail by detail; instead, the point is that Dorion should be creative, and also embrace the likely reality that this team is unlikely to be any good this season, so they might as well build for the future.

That’s where the 2019-20 season presents interesting opportunities.

Craig Anderson seems long in the tooth, but he’s surprised us before with seemingly random near-elite years, and what better time for the 38-year-old to pull another rabbit out of a hat than this one, where he’s in the last season of a deal that carries a $4.75M cap hit?

That sounds like a hefty sum today, but it would be manageable for a contender around trade deadline time, where they could “rent” Anderson. Maybe Ottawa would take on a contract a contender doesn’t want (perhaps Anderson to the Calgary Flames in a deal that involves Cam Talbot and Michael Frolik, if Talbot doesn’t work out) for the price of picks and prospects?

Ottawa doesn’t have marquee trade bait like they did with Karlsson, Duchene, and Stone last year, but you can land nice assets for mid-level players, too, from Anderson to someone like Chris Tierney.

There’s only so much Dorion can do about Melnyk’s penny-pinching ways, whether the Senators owner is truly just being “cost-conscious” now only to eventually spend when it’s time to contend, or if that “unparalleled success” talk was merely just talk.

But as we’ve seen with teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, you can build something pretty special even while dealing with budget constraints. You need some creativity from a GM, and an owner who will spend money when it counts.

Is Dorion up to the task? So far, the results have been mixed, but how he handles this situation (now, and in the future) is an enormous X-factor for the Senators.

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.

Looking at four potential No. 1 goalie battles in 2019-20

Getty Images
2 Comments

Battles for the No. 1 goalie spot heading into any given season often isn’t where teams want to be.

The uncertainty for hockey’s most important position is unsettling and often means the team embroiled in a training camp battle for that club’s top job is far closer to the draft lottery than the Stanley Cup.

Not everyone can have an Andrei Vasilevskiy or a Ben Bishop.

Today, we will focus on a few teams that don’t necessarily have that position locked up, and look into four battles that should play out once training camp gets underway in a couple month’s time.

1. Edmonton Oilers 

Mikko Koskinen is Peter Chiarelli’s last defining moment in a terrible tenure with the Oilers. Chiarelli, apparently with the blessing of the team, gave .900-save-percentage man Koskinen a three-year, $13.5 million raise because of reasons that may never been fully certain.

The deal paved the way for a lot of scrutiny, the exit of Cam Talbot and the continuation of what was a compounding year of bad in Northern Alberta.

Now, the Oilers have Mike Smith in the mix, the goalie who started 40 games and posted an .898 save percentage for the Calgary Flames last season in a timeshare with David Rittitch. But Smith’s experience in the playoffs led head coach Bill Peters to give him the nod in goal.

And now Smith heads up the road to battle for a job in Edmonton. Sure, Koskinen has the contract, but there’s no question that Smith could outplay him in training camp and set up a big decision for newly-minted coach Dave Tippett. Tippett knows Smith well from his days as the bench boss in Arizona.

2. Arizona Coyotes

Speaking of the desert dogs, what’s the plan there?

They essentially have two starting-caliber netminders with Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. Raanta’s season was derailed thanks to injury. He made just 12 starts before Kuemper took over the starting role.

Raanta’s 2017-18 campaign was outstanding with a .930 save percentage across 47 starts. The Coyotes had found someone to replace Mike Smith as a solid No. 1.

When the lower-body injury ended Raanta’s season in Nov. 2018, it would have been easy to write off the Coyotes — something many did.

Kuemper would start 55 games, winning 27 of them and posting a .925 save percentage. His play gave the Coyotes a chance down the stretch, and while it ultimately ended with them not making the playoffs, it certainly showed that Arizona had two viable options between the pipes.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

That’s what makes this situation interesting. A time-share might be ideal here. It’s something that’s worked for several teams, including the New York Islanders, and to a certain extent, the Boston Bruins — while not a true timeshare — were able to rest Tuukka Rask more with a quality backup, allowing them to reach Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

If general manager John Chayka wants, he also has quite the asset in either goalie on the trade market, too. Kuemper is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and will likely be looking for a raise.

For now, they have one of the better goaltending tandems in the league and some decisions to make because of it.

3. Ottawa Senators

Craig Anderson has one year left on a deal that will pay him $4.75 million this coming season.

Anders Nilsson is getting $2.6 million next season and impressed in 26 games played last season after getting shipped to Ottawa from Vancouver.

Mike Condon is set to make $2.4 million this season.

Nilsson seems the best bet to grab the starting role after the Sens gave him a two-year deal earlier this summer. Anderson’s season last year wasn’t great and Condon isn’t going to be the starter after playing two games last season.

Nilsson, on his sixth NHL team since being drafted in 2009 by the Islanders, finally found his stride in Ottawa, posting a .914 save percentage on a bad Senators team.

4. Los Angeles Kings

Yes, Jonathan Quick has four years left and yes, he’s getting paid $5.8 million.

He was also a complete disaster last season between the pipes. So were the Kings, for that matter. But who really stood out among the wreckage was backup Jack Campbell.

While Quick, 33, had a less than ideal .888 save percentage across 46 starts, Campbell, 27, and getting paid $5.125 million less than his teammate, put up a .928 on a very bad team. It’s impressive.

While the Kings haven’t done much to improve themselves this summer, giving Campbell a shot at the starting gig might light a spark elsewhere in their lineup. They did seem to play better in front of him, and he inspired confidence with his play.

Perhaps the time is now to give Campbell is chance and let Quick groom him (and potentially Cal Petersen) as the Kings begin to look to the future.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Binnington’s next contract is a challenge for Blues

6 Comments

As the champagne is still drying for the St. Louis Blues, let’s consider a good problem to have: how much will they pay Jordan Binnington, the 25-year-old goalie who emerged from relative obscurity to save their season, and then help them win their first-ever Stanley Cup? And for how long will they pay Binnington?

It’s a challenging situation, even if the NHL’s other 30 teams won’t spare the Blues a Kleenex.

Let’s break the situation down, including what’s going on around Binnington.

RFA, not UFA

One of the biggest factors to consider is Binnington’s RFA status.

As Puck Pedia notes, Binnington needs two more seasons of play to become an unrestricted free agent.

That’s a fascinating cutoff point, as Jake Allen – the former Blues starter Binnington dislodged – will see his $4.35 million cap hit expire after the 2020-21 season. Later on in this post, we’ll get to Allen and other contextual factors, as the Blues’ overall cap situation certainly impacts the situation.

One other key note is that Binnington is arbitration-eligible. That mitigates some of the advantage the Blues have with Binnington becoming an RFA, as Binnington checks some pretty big boxes that would likely stand out to an arbitrator:

Binnington’s numbers, and background

Despite already being 25, Binnington’s NHL sample size is small. Yet, what Binnington lacks in quantity, he makes up with brilliant quality.

In 32 regular season games (and 30 starts), Binnington managed absolutely splendid numbers: a 24-5-1 record and .927 save percentage. While his playoff save percentage was more modest (.914 in 26 games), Binnington was tremendous in Game 7 against Boston, and ended up finishing second in the Conn Smythe voting.

So, Binnington only had an abbreviated regular season, yet became a Calder Trophy finalist, then almost won the playoff MVP as he earned all 16 playoff victories during the Blues’ championship run. Yeah, that’s the sort of stuff you can lead with in contract negotiations, unless Binnington’s reps just want to show a Game 7 highlight reel, then lean back in a rolling chair.

(Contract negotiations should always include rolling chairs, right?)

No doubt about it, that’s still a small sample size, but Binnington isn’t directly comparable to a flash in the pan like Andrew Hammond. While Hammond’s stats at other levels weren’t very promising before his Hamburglar run, Binnington’s largely put up strong numbers at the AHL and other levels; he simply hasn’t always received opportunities to prove himself.

Also, Binnington has some decent pedigree as a third-rounder (88th overall in 2011), especially when you consider that goalies rarely go in the first round any longer.

Not a ton of comparable situations

A comparison to Matt Murray is probably the most natural. It’s not totally 1:1, mind you. Murray was younger, and the Penguins signed him to an extension heading into the season where his rookie deal was expiring. Also, while the Blues have an expensive veteran (Allen, $4.35M per year for two more seasons) and the Penguins had one (Marc-Andre Fleury), the situation is much clearer in St. Louis than it was in Pittsburgh. Binnington is The Man, and if Allen remains with the team through his current contract, it could be due to a lack of willing trade partners, not a belief that Allen is actually the real No. 1.

(If Allen ended up being that top guy after all — don’t forget, goalies are wildly unpredictable – he’d become the Craig Anderson to Binnington’s Hammond.)

Bridge or something longer?

There are reasons point to, but also away from, a shorter “bridge” contract.

To an extent, something in the two or three-year range would make sense for both sides. The Blues could mitigate the risks that come with investing in a goalie who has a limited sample size at the NHL level, while Binnington could salvage most, if not all, of his UFA years with a shorter deal. A brief contract might make it easier for Binnington to digest a smaller AAV; theoretically, he could really make the big bucks if he proves himself for a couple extra years.

Yet, there are reasons to chisel out a longer pact, too.

For Binnington, he’d gain the financial security that comes from getting hefty term, which is something that must really resonate with a player who’s had to fight to prove himself as a professional hockey goalie. Binnington might be OK with potentially leaving some money on the table for added peace of mind.

Let’s face it, too. The Blues have been looking for a go-to goalie for ages, particularly since Jake Allen hasn’t panned out as the guy, as they had hoped.

It will likely boil down to the details that maybe are only discussed behind closed doors, or perhaps occasionally leaked to the media. Will the Blues be tough negotiators, prompting Binnington to lean toward a shorter deal, as to get the added power of UFA status? How much more or less money would Binnington receive if the term went longer?

That all boils down to the priorities for both sides.

Cap considerations

Cap Friendly estimates that the Blues have about $18.73M in cap space heading into the offseason, with 16 roster spots covered. Again, the Blues may prefer to get Allen’s $4.35M off the books, but that’s likely easier said than done.

While the Blues have some choices to make as far supporting cast members with Patrick Maroon among their UFAs while Joel Edmundson and Oskar Sundqvist stand out among several RFAs other than Binnington, the other biggest decisions linger after 2019-20.

Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5M) will command a hefty raise. Brayden Schenn won’t be as cheap as $5.125M after his contract year, either, and Jaden Schwartz‘s friendly $5.35M cap hit expires after 2020-21. There are also quality young players who will get more expensive in the near future, from Vince Dunn to Robert Thomas.

So, Blues GM Doug Armstrong must weigh all of those considerations while pondering what to pay Binnington, and for how long.

***

Again, this isn’t a bad problem to have. And, if you look at the salary cap era, other teams have faced far more agonizing cap crunches than the Blues face this summer.

Still, just because this isn’t the most challenging situation, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a puzzle for Armstrong to solve.

MORE BLUES STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Jay Bouwmeester finally gets his Stanley Cup
• Blues fan Laila Anderson gets moment with Stanley Cup
• Ryan O’Reilly wins Conn Smythe Trophy
• Berube helped Blues find identity after early-season struggle
• Blues latest team erased from Stanley Cup drought list

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.

Breaking down Erik Karlsson’s playoffs with Sharks

1 Comment

Heading into an eventual Game 3 win against the St. Louis Blues, Erik Karlsson was due.

OK, now he wasn’t due for something along the lines of scoring an overtime game-winner after fellow Sharks player Timo Meier got away with a hand pass, but Karlsson was due.

Through 16 games during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Karlsson had not been able to score a goal for the San Jose Sharks. Few would complain about his overall production, what with his 13 assists in those 16 games, but even acknowledging that defensemen take lower-percentage shots, you had to think that Karlsson was starting to get at least a little bit frustrated.

Karlsson ended up with two goals during the Sharks’ controversial 5-4 overtime win against St. Louis, and you wonder if the goals will really start to flow in now, starting with Friday’s Game 4 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream). If so, the Sharks stand a great chance to improve on their 2-1 lead in Round 3.

That goal-drought-breaking Game 3 serves as a nice excuse to take a look at Karlsson’s overall work during his first – and possibly only – playoff run with the Sharks.

Health questions

Karlsson literally limped into this postseason, so it was only natural to wonder how effective he could really be for the Sharks. After San Jose’s Game 1 win, Karlsson explained to Pierre McGuire that things definitely started rough for him, but that his health has improved as the postseason’s gone along.

Despite Karlsson’s assurances, there have been times when it’s been really difficult to shake the impression that the star defenseman isn’t at 100 percent. It’s something that Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos and others speculated about, and while some of that might merely be speculation, it’s tough not to read too much into any slow pivot, seemingly timid approach, and other bit of body language.

Not needing to be Superman

Remember Karlsson’s epic playoff run from 2016-17, when Karlsson nearly willed the Ottawa Senators to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, with help from friends like Mark Stone and Craig Anderson? Plenty of hockey fanatics already knew that Karlsson can be otherworldly at his peak, yet for those who stubbornly stood by as naysayers, it was eye-opening and mouth-shutting.

Interestingly, when you look at the simplest numbers of all, Karlsson’s not that far off from that run.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In 2016-17, Karlsson generated two goals and 16 assists for 18 points in 19 games. During this run, Karlsson has two goals and 13 assists for 15 points in 17 games.

But it’s clear that the Sharks aren’t asking him to shoulder the same burden as he did with Ottawa. Most obviously, Karlsson’s seen his ice time shrink from 28:08 per night during that Senators run (when he seemed to be dealing with a lower-body injury as well), to a still-impressive but less Ryan Suter-like 25:34 TOI average with San Jose.

Brent Burns is the big reason why Karlsson’s numbers are robust, but not outrageous … and the Sharks are really leaning on Burns, whose ice time average is at a startling 28:53 per night, up significantly even from his work during previous playoff runs.

When the Sharks landed Erik Karlsson in that trade, the tantalizing thought was that, as two right-handed defensemen, Peter DeBoer could have one of Burns or Karlsson on the ice during almost every shift of a game. That’s pretty close to coming to fruition during this deep run.

Ups and downs

Back during his Ottawa days, Karlsson looked impressive from a possession standpoint, and outright outrageous when you considered his stats relative to his teammates.

He often fit that bill during the regular season, yet Karlsson’s fancy stats have been a little less fancy during the playoffs. According to certain metrics at Natural Stat Trick, Karlsson’s actually been on the wrong end of chances more often than on the positive side.

That’s really not such a bad thing overall, though.

For one thing, Karlsson and Burns are facing tough competition, and by logging such large minutes, they’re keeping lesser players from getting swamped in ways that could really put the Sharks in a bind. So maybe Karlsson hasn’t always been off-the-wall amazing like he’s been in the past – quite plausible if he’s nursing an injury – but, to put things mildly, he’s worth the rare mishap.

***

Overall, Karlsson’s been a gem for the Sharks. Perhaps they might grumble at the occasional mistake, emotional flare up, or bit of detached-looking body language when Karlsson’s on the ice for an opponent’s goal, but they’re likely ecstatic with the ultimate results.

Now, if you’re a team pondering a long-term deal with Drew Doughty-type money? Then maybe you’re more concerned by every wince and slow turn.

That’s not the Sharks’ problem, and if Karlsson really heats up, he could create even bigger headaches for the Blues.

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.