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Flames make fascinating bet with Elias Lindholm contract

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The Calgary Flames’ pivotal decision to trade Dougie Hamilton to the Carolina Hurricanes for a package including Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin was tough to immediately call. Maybe it makes sense, then, that Lindholm’s contract also seems divisive.

At least the terms of the deal are clear: six years, $29.1 million, which calls for a $4.85M cap hit. That’s official from the Flames, while Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that Lindholm isn’t receiving any sort of no-trade/no-movement clauses.

Some criticisms

Whether you love or loathe the terms, it’s clear that the Flames are making a big commitment to Lindholm. If the results are middling, one can bet that people will note that Dougie Hamilton’s cap hit ($5.75M, through 2020-21) doesn’t cost a whole lot more than Lindholm’s new mark. Considering that the Flames still need to sign tough-to-gauge Hanifin to a new deal, the bill for this trade could end up being steep.

For what it’s worth, 55-percent of PHT voters believed that the Hurricanes won the trade, at least on the day it was made.

Despite five seasons already in the NHL (although he was limited to 58 games as a rookie in 2013-14), Lindholm hasn’t yet reached the 20-goal plateau. His career-high so far is 17 goals, while his peak for points so far was 45. He’s falling into a price range with some really nice players, such as Nazem Kadri and Sean Couturier. Looking at the simplest stats, Lindholm seems like a gamble.

And, again, people will beat up on the Flames if Hamilton – and to a lesser extent, Micheal Ferland – go on a tear in Carolina.

With another interesting yet even riskier investment in James Neal, the Flames are really rolling the dice this summer. If those gambles end up looking foolish, Calgary could be stuck for a while. That would bring back unpleasant memories of the albatross deals that hampered the Darryl Sutter era.

The good

At 23, some growth is conceivable, although some might remark that Lindholm probably is what he is after logging 374 regular-season games.

Of course, Lindholm could very well put up impressive numbers if he hits the linemate lottery with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. In that scenario, the Flames’ longer commitments would be a blessing rather than a curse, as a shorter deal would have opened up greater risks for Lindholm to excessively inflate his value.

Even a more modest good-cause scenario would be that Lindholm might give the Flames the sort of supporting scoring they’ve desperately needed beyond Gaudreau – Monahan and the possession monster trio of Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, and Matthew Tkachuk.

Speaking of possession stats, Lindholm checks out in that area, for the most part. (The Hurricanes hog the puck so much that sometimes it’s easy to take a guy like Lindholm for granted.)

At $4.85M, Lindholm is a fair enough value. The Flames are probably crossing their fingers that such a contract looks like a steal in hindsight. Such a scenario is far from outrageous.

***

Overall, it seems like a pricey but reasonable decision. If nothing else, we can’t accuse the Flames of being cheap, as Lindholm + Hanifin are poised to be more expensive (possibly a lot more expensive) than Hamilton + Ferland, although Adam Fox clouds that situation.

Again, that trade is something fans of the Flames and Hurricanes will be chewing on for years, so it only seems right that Lindholm’s value may also fuel some fun/nerdy hockey debates.

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.

Goaltending will once again make or break the Hurricanes season

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So far this offseason is taking shape the same way as the previous four or five for the Carolina Hurricanes

There is the yearly talk that forward Jeff Skinner is on the verge of being traded without — to this point — actually being traded.

We have also now reached the point of the summer where we look at the roster, perhaps after some kind of a trade, free agent signing, or draft pick (in this case the selection of Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 overall pick along with the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton from the Calgary Flames), and try to convince ourselves that this is going to be the season where the Hurricanes put it all together and are good again … if only they can just get some decent goaltending. 

As much as it all sounds like a broken record, there is a lot of truth to that statement.

[Related: Beyond Karlsson: Five Players Who Could Be Traded This Summer]

Over the past four years the Hurricanes have allowed fewer shots on goal than every team in the NHL with the exception of the Los Angeles Kings. Despite they rank 20th in terms of goals against, a shocking disparity when you look at the rest of the league. You can talk about shot quality and scoring chances, but teams that are so strong when it comes to shot suppression usually — usually! — fare well when it comes to preventing goals. Teams that are bad at shot suppression are usually bad at giving up goals. It is not exactly rocket science here.

The biggest part of scoring a goal in the NHL is actually getting the puck on net. The more it happens, the more are going to end up in the net. The fewer you get on net, the fewer you in the net.

Just look at the top-10 and bottom-10 teams in terms of giving up shots on goal over the past four seasons and where they also rank in goals against.

The Hurricanes are the only team in the top-seven in terms of shots allowed that ranks lower than ninth in goals against during that stretch. The only other two outliers in the top-10 (Calgary and Dallas) are two other teams that have well documented issues finding consistent goaltending.

The only outliers on the right side are, really, the New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist masks a lot of flaws) and Florida Panthers (Roberto Luongo masks some flaws, too). Maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets, too (they have a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in their net).

With the additions of Hamilton and Calvin de Haan in free agency that defense is going to be just as strong, if not better, than it has been the past few years, and that hat will still be true whether or not they trade Justin Faulk.

The issue, again, is going to be whether or not they have anybody in net that can give them even average play in net.

For years it was Cam Ward that had a stranglehold on the position, and for the better part of the past six or seven years was one of the least productive goalie in the league. At different times they have brought in successful backups to perhaps push Ward and maybe even take the job away from him and perhaps solidify the position, including the likes of Anton Khudobin and Eddie Lack. None of them succeeded.

The latest attempt came last offseason when they traded a third-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Scott Darling and then immediately signed him to a four-year, $16 million contract extension.

Year one of the Darling era was … well … more of the same in the Carolina net as Darling’s .888 save percentage was 32nd out of 32 goalies to appear in at least 40 games. It was also one of the 10 worst performances over the past 20 years (again among goalies that played in at least 40 games). It had to be a large disappointment for the Hurricanes, not only because the investment they made did not produce immediate results, but also because Darling had been really good in Chicago as Corey Crawford‘s backup. Then as soon as they get him in Carolina everything completely fell apart in his first attempt at being a regular starter (or at least as a semi-regular starter).

Despite that tough debut the Hurricanes seem willing to stick with him and give him another shot, especially after letting Ward go in free agency and only signing Petr Mrazek (who was, to say the least, not good for the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers this past season) to push him for playing time.

The net, it seems, still belongs to Darling.

His attempt at bouncing back — as well as everything that led to his down year in 2017-18 — was the subject of an in-depth article this week by Luke DeCock at the News & Observer where he details Darling’s work to improve his physical conditioning and attempt to show up at camp in better shape than he did a year ago. Given the season Darling had a year ago, it certainly can not hurt.

If you are a Hurricanes fan there are a couple of things that should give you cause for optimism even after a decade of the same story over and over again.

For one, there is every reason to believe the shot numbers and underlying numbers this team has produced are an accurate reflection of what it is capable of defensively. It is a good defensive team, and it has good players on the blue line, and it added even more of them this summer.

There is also a pretty striking parallel here with another perpetually mediocre team that always seemed to be just a goalie away from competing — the Winnipeg Jets.

For years the Jets stuck with their same core of players, they stuck with the same goalie, they would have consistently good underlying numbers, and they would always lose because their goalies, for lack of a better word, stunk. Then one year they got a chance to draft a superstar goal-scorer with the No. 2 overall pick (Patrik Laine) to bring everything together up front, and then they finally found a competent goalie in Conor Hellebuyck. The result: An organization that had made the playoffs just once in the past 10 years and had never even won a playoff game was in the Western Conference Final, just a handful of wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.

Are the Hurricanes, as presently constructed, really that far away from where the Jets were heading into the 2017-18 season? While the Jets were built around a group of talented forwards, the Hurricanes have built their core around the blue line — and it is excellent. The point, though, is that there is a young, talented core in place here that could be capable of competing this season. How quickly Svechnikov is able to develop will play a big role in the outcome of the season, but the biggest issue will once again be in net.

They do not need him to be a savior. They do not need him to be Henrik Lundqvist or even a top-five goalie But if Darling is able to be the goalie the Hurricanes thought he could be when they traded for — and signed — him a year ago, an average to maybe slightly above average starter, they could be a lot better than anyone expects them to be, and a lot sooner than any expects them to be, too.

Related

Hurricanes Continue To Strengthen Defense With Calvin de Haan Signing
Hurricanes Get Dougie Hamilton From Calgary Flames

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.

Beyond Karlsson: Five players who could be dealt this summer

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The hockey world is collectively holding its breath at the moment.

Erik Karlsson‘s future certainly doesn’t seem to lie in Ottawa with the Senators, and much of the past week(s) has been dubbed #KarlssonWatch as such.

But while Karlsson is obviously the biggest commodity on the trade block, there are several other players with pretty good pedigrees that could be on the move as well.

Let’s take a look at five prime candidates to still switch teams this summer, in no particular order.

Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes

Here’s how a solid defenseman gets his name on the trading block:

1. New owner arrives
2. New owner appoints new front office pieces
3. New front office pieces see team in shambles
4. Team in shambles hasn’t made playoffs in nine years
5. Team in shambles that hasn’t made playoffs in nine years doesn’t have a starting goalie
6. Team in shambles that hasn’t made playoffs in nine years doesn’t have a starting goalie already traded away prospects for another good defenseman
6. Trade good players to help rectify bad situation

The Hurricanes are rebuilding and already made a good trade to get Dougie Hamilton from Calgary. Faulk had a down year, sure, but the Hurricanes weren’t a very good team.

And they need to address Scott Darling and his inability to be a starting goalie in the NHL if they want to compete this year. They’ve found a backup in Petr Mrazek, but missed out on Philipp Grubauer and now need to try and pry something away from a team willing to give up a potential starter.

It’s either that, or they need to find a way to get better in front of Darling.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens

This one is pretty much set in stone, right?

When your general manager reportedly comes out and says there’s not going to be any contract negotiations regarding an extension, that’s a good a sign as any that it’s game over in Montreal.

That same report even suggested that Pacioretty might even look at re-signing with the Canadiens, the NHL’s brightest-burning tire fire at the moment.

Sure, the Canadiens are rebuilding and Pacioretty likely will command a decent return given his friendly salary, but any rebuild requires some veterans to stick around, and Pacioretty is the guy they should be wooing instead of bringing back Tomas Plekanec.

Oh, Marc Bergevin.

Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks

The days of Hart trophies and Art Ross’ are long gone for the aging Perry, who has begun the descent in his career arc.

Perry carries with him a salary cap hit of nearly $9 million a season and that doesn’t run out for another three seasons, so moving the former ‘Rocket’ Richard winner won’t be easy.

Salary retention would likely be a must in any trade the Ducks pull off, but the Ducks need to sign a few players, including Ondrej Kase, who is quickly becoming Perry’s replacement at right wing.

This one seems unlikely given what Perry makes, but some teams need to hit the cap floor and some teams are willing to give a player of Perry’s stature a fresh lease on life hoping to extract some end-of-career heroics.

Milan Lucic, Edmonton Oilers

It goes without saying, but this is a brutal contract for the Edmonton Oilers.

Lucic hasn’t fit and isn’t adapting to the game that’s getting faster around him, leading many observers calling for the bruiser power forward to be traded.

It’s not easy.

Perhaps we could see a Karlsson-lite sort of deal, where Lucic is packaged with a better player to shed his salary, similar to what Ottawa is trying to do to rid themselves of Bobby Ryan‘s contract.

It’s a bit of mess for Peter Chiarelli, who got himself into it in the first place. He loves himself some Lucic after winning the Stanley Cup with him in 2011.

But Chiarelli’s job isn’t getting easier after missing the playoffs with arguably the world’s best player. This isn’t about loyalty anymore for Chiarelli, it’s about his job security.

Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets

When a player is on the fence about committing his long-term future to a team, it usually means he doesn’t want to commit his long-term future that certain team.

This is devastating for the Blue Jackets, who have one of the better teams in the NHL.

From our own James O’Brien:

He set a new career in total points. He averaged more shots on goal per game. His possession numbers jumped to an elite level. He was Columbus’ best and most impactful player for the entire season. When he was on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Blue Jackets controlled 57 percent of the total shot attempts. They outscored teams by a 61-37 margin. Without him on the ice the Blue Jackets were outshot (49 percent shot attempt) and outscored (108-111).

Panarin has a year remaining on his current contract and will turn into an unrestricted free agent next July. The return on him would be pretty good if perhaps slightly muted given the situation at this point.

It’s a lose-lose for Columbus, unless they want to give him a two-year deal and hopefully convince him to sign a longer-term contract later down the road.

The Blue Jackets aren’t far off from competing for the Stanley Cup. They have a lot of talent on their roster, including a world-class goaltender.

But you can’t lose Panarin, your best player, for nothing in a year’s time. If he isn’t willing to re-sign and meet your criteria, then you’re forced to move him, and that’s the situation, at least it appears, the Blue Jackets find themselves in.

Think someone else is likely to get moved?

Have your say in the comments.

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

Hurricanes continue to strengthen defense with Calvin de Haan signing

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The Carolina Hurricanes are building what could be one heck of a defense.

After acquiring Dougie Hamilton from the Calgary Flames earlier this offseason in a blockbuster trade, the Hurricanes dipped into the free agent market on Tuesday night by signing former New York Islanders blue liner Calvin de Haan to a four-year contract that will pay him $18.2 million. That comes out to a salary cap number of $4.55 million per season.

The 27-year-old de Haan was limited to just 33 games for the Islanders during the 2017-18 season but has proven to be a strong defensive player throughout his career when healthy.

“Calvin is a solid, puck-moving defenseman who will bring a veteran presence to the blue line,” said Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell in a statement released by the team. “He is a strong two-way player who is capable of shutting down opponents’ top lines, and he will help solidify the left side and upgrade our defense.”

[Related: Six NHL teams that improved the most this summer (so far)]

This creates a couple of questions for where the Hurricanes go from here.

Does the addition of de Haan, along with the recent trade for Hamilton, increase the odds that Justin Faulk gets traded at some point this summer for additional offensive help?

Or do the Hurricanes keep Faulk and go forward with a defense that, on paper, looks to be incredibly strong and could be one of the best in the NHL?

Hamilton, Faulk, de Haan, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce has the makings of a tremendous blue line for both the short-and long-term, as de Haan is the oldest player in that group while all of them are signed for at least the next two years.

For as much as the Hurricanes struggled last season in goal prevention they were once again one of the best shot suppression teams in the league, allowing just 28.9 shots on goal per game, the lowest total in the league. During 5-on-5 play they allowed just 52.2 total shot attempts per 60 minutes. That was the second-lowest mark in the league, behind only the Boston Bruins.

The issue, as it has always been, was in net where Scott Darling and Cam Ward were unable to give them consistent play.

The Hurricanes allowed Ward to leave in free agency this summer (he signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks) and took a flier on former Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers goalie Petr Mrazek. They also have a pretty big investment in Darling and have to be hoping that he is able to bounce back from a disappointing debut season with the team. With better goaltending there is a lot to like about this team. But it seems like we say this every single year about the Hurricanes. At some point it would be nice to see it actually happen.

Meanwhile, de Haan’s signing in Carolina continues what has just been a brutal week for the New York Islanders as they lost him and John Tavares, while accumulating a collection of fourth liners.

Related: Hurricanes get Dougie Hamilton from Calgary Flames

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.

Six NHL teams that improved the most this summer (so far)

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The start of the NHL season is still a few months away and there is obviously time for a lot to change between now and then when it comes to roster movement.

Erik Karlsson is still likely to get traded.

Artemi Panarin and Max Pacioretty could get traded.

There are still probably a handful of bargain bin free agents floating around that are capable of making some sort of an impact. There are still ways for the 31 general managers to improve their rosters before the puck drops on the 2018-19 regular season.

So while it is probably still a little early to officially determine the winners and losers of the offseason, we can at least take a look at which teams have done the most to improve themselves so far.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs — Uh, this one is pretty obvious, right? The Maple Leafs, already loaded with young impact talent at forward, added one of the best players in the league in John Tavares on the first day of free agency and that alone makes them better.

The Maple Leafs still have some work to do when it comes to solidifying their blue line, but you can’t fault them for adding Tavares. When you have a chance to add a player of that caliber (and it is rare that you do) you have to take advantage of that. Now they have a 1-2-3 center group of Auston Matthews, Tavares, and Nazem Kadri that is every bit as good as any other center trio in the league.

[Related: John Tavares signs with Maple Leafs]

2. Carolina Hurricanes — A lot here depends on whether or not they trade Jeff Skinner and/or Justin Faulk and what they might end up getting for them in return. Overall, though, this has been a strong offseason for the Hurricanes. Still not sold on their goaltending situation and until that gets fixed that is probably always going to be the thing that holds them back, but can Petr Mrazek really be any worse than Cam Ward was? And, hey, Scott Darling really has nowhere to go but up after a dismal debut with the team. So there is that.

The real encouraging news comes from the fact they were fortunate enough to address probably their second biggest need (after goaltending) when they selected goal-scoring sniper Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 overall pick.

Then they went and traded for Dougie Hamilton (full trade here), a borderline elite defenseman, to strengthen their blue line.

Hamilton led all defenseman in goals last season, is a dominant possession player, is still only 25 years old, and is signed for three more seasons at $5.75 million per season, — a steal of a price given his production. Hamilton’s addition perhaps could give them some added flexibility to maybe trade Faulk for help elsewhere, or perhaps even better, simply keep him and continue to build what could be an outstanding defense around those two, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce.

Update: The Hurricanes continued to strengthen their defense on Tuesday by signing Calvin de Haan, formerly of the New York Islanders, to a four-year, $18 million contract in free agency.

3. Philadelphia Flyers — The Flyers seem like an intriguing possibility for Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, given need, cap space, and perhaps even assets that could be traded. Will it actually happen? Well, probably not, but it sure is fun to think about. As far as actual moves the team has made, bringing back James van Riemsdyk was a strong addition in free agency as it gives the Flyers some much-needed secondary scoring punch.

Once you got below Tavares on the list of available free agents van Riemsdyk was probably the best pure offensive name available on the market and still at an age where a long-term contract (in this case five years) wasn’t a massive gamble.

He has scored at least 27 goals in four of the past five seasons, a stretch where he has been one of the best goal-scorers (both at even-strength and in all situations) in the entire league.

[Related: Five logical landing spots for Erik Karlsson]

4. St. Louis Blues — The immediate reaction to the Blues’ acquisition of Ryan O'Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres seemed to be one of shock because of the number of pieces going the other way. But that is just it. It was a quantity over quality package, and when you break down the assets that the Blues gave up how many of them were actually something that they might truly miss?

Prospect Tage Thompson and the first-round pick are obviously the key pieces. But what else are the Blues going to miss?

Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka turned into contracts that the Blues probably no longer wanted, and a second-round pick (probably one in the second half of that round) is nothing more than a lottery ticket with low odds of turning into anything impactful. At the end of the day the Blues still got what was by far the best player in the trade.

They also added Tyler Bozak and David Perron in free agency, two players that will probably end up outproducing what Berglund and Sobotka provided (or will provde). The Blues were 24th in the NHL in goals this past season and needed to do something to address that. They absolutely did address it.

[Related: Blues acquire Ryan O’Reilly from Sabres]

5. Arizona Coyotes — There is reason for optimism in Arizona. They kept their franchise player in Oliver Ekman-Larsson on a long-term contract, they have some outstanding young talent starting to emerge from their farm system, and after a miserable first half of the 2017-18 season they finished on a very strong note by going 17-10-2 over their final 29 games (that would be a 101-point pace over 82 games). How much that carries over to this upcoming season obviously remains to be seen, but for the second offseason in a row they made some big additions.

They landed a potential impact player in Alex Galchenyuk in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for Max Domi, and then dipped into the free agent market by bringing in speedster Michael Grabner. Grabner has his flaws, but his speed can cause havoc during 5-on-5 play and the penalty kill while they have more than enough salary cap space to handle his three-year, $10 million contract. Those additions, combined with what will hopefully be a full year from Antti Raanta and perhaps the development of Dylan Strome could make Arizona a surprise team in the Western Conference. Especially in a Pacific Division that is completely wide open.

6. Los Angeles Kings — The Kings didn’t really do much to make themselves younger or faster, and there are some questions as to how much he has left in the tank given his age and the fact he spent the past five years playing in Russia, but Ilya Kovalchuk gives the Kings the type of offensive weapon they desperately needed this past season. I still don’t love the Kings’ long-term outlook, but Kovalchuk could be a pretty big addition and makes them better in the short-term even if he is not the 40-goal, point-per-game player he was during his prime years in the NHL.

[ProHockeyTalk’s NHL 2018 free agency tracker]

More NHL Free agency:
Paul Stastny smart addition for Golden Knights
Kings add Kovalchuk on three-year contract
Penguins make it official with Jack Johnson, bring back Matt Cullen

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.