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PHT Morning Skate: Armstrong winning summer; Bruins losing arms race?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• On how Doug Armstrong, not Kyle Dubas or even George McPhee, won the summer. (ESPN)

• The Carolina Hurricanes are on the hunt for a new assistant coach after Steve Smith resigned from his post on Monday. (Hurricanes)

• Why would the NHL consider reinstating Slava Voynov? That’s a good question. (The Sporting News)

Mark Giordano breaks down the Calgary Flames’ additions this summer and his potential reunion with T.J. Brodie. (Sportsnet)

• Does Matt Duchene, the man Pierre Dorion went hard after to acquire last season, have a long-term future with the Ottawa Senators? (Featurd)

Mark Stone, a very good player, is going to get paid at some point. But what will that number look like? (The Score)

• Analytics, the secondary assist and how it affects contracts. (TSN)

• The Maple Leafs got John Tavares this summer and the Tampa Bay Lightning could get Erik Karlsson. Are the Boston Bruins losing out? (The Hockey News)

• Five potential trade targets for the Dallas Stars this offseason. (Blackout Dallas)

• Islanders heading back in time? Lou Lamoriello is leading the New York Islanders into a new era, one that will be headlined by dominant and physical play from all members of the team. (Eyes on Isles)

• Luke Richardson, with over 600 games of pro hockey experience at both the NHL and AHL level, joins the Canadiens as an assistant coach. (Canadiens)

• The most talked about point-per-game player in the KHL last season not named Ilya Kovalchuk is heading to Long Island on a one-year deal. (Islanders)

• The Washington Capitals winning the Stanley Cup is going to boost the game in the nation’s capital. (Washington Post)

• Blackhawks first-round draft pick Adam Boqvist ready for anything after dealing with dyslexia. (Chicago Tribune)

• Texas boy with half a heart gets dream hockey rink thanks to Make-A-Wish Foundation. (KHOU 11)


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

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.

Joe Thornton returns as Sharks continue to look for difference makers

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While the San Jose Sharks missed out on signing John Tavares, they will be bringing back Joe Thornton for another year after “Jumbo” inked a one-year, $5 million contract on Monday.

“Joe has become one of the faces of this franchise since his arrival in 2005 and we feel it’s only fitting that he will be wearing teal going forward,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson. “He is a generational playmaker and his accomplishments place him amongst the elite players to ever play the game. He has helped lead this team to new levels and continues to be one of the top two-way centers in the League. Nobody loves the game of hockey more than Joe Thornton and his leadership on and off the ice have been instrumental in this franchise’s success. We’re excited that he has continued his commitment to this organization and the fans in San Jose.”

The 39-year-old Thornton last played on Jan. 23 after suffering a fully torn ACL and MCL in his right knee during a game against the Winnipeg Jets. He underwent surgery on the same ligaments in his left knee seven months before that injury.

Meeting with reporters after the Sharks’ season ended in May, Thornton reiterated that he wanted to return for a 14th season in San Jose. He also added that he was willing to be flexible in negotiations with Wilson and leave some money on the table if it meant bringing in a player like Tavares.

“There’s enough money around for everybody … I want this team, ultimately, to win the Stanley Cup,” he said via the Mercury News. “This city deserves it and these guys deserve it. So, whatever we decide, it’s going to be in the back of my head, just making this team better.”

With Thornton taken care of, the Sharks are a little more than $13 million under the salary cap ceiling, per Cap Friendly. Only restricted free agents Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney are left for Wilson to re-sign.

Given the championship window they’re in, you have to expect some aggressiveness from Wilson this summer now that the Tavares option is gone. Logan Couture and Evander Kane have been re-signed but the likes of Paul Stastny, Ilya Kovalchuk, John Carlson and James van Riemsdyk are now unavailable. With the free agent market thinning out, he’ll have to look the trade route in order to find some upgrades, which means Max Pacioretty, Jeff Skinner and maybe Artemi Panarin become pursuable targets.

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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.

PHT Power Rankings: The top 20 NHL free agents

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The start of the NHL’s free agent signing period is less than a week away and already two of the biggest names available have been taken off of the list, thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk‘s signing with the Los Angeles Kings and defenseman John Carlson re-signing with the Washington Capitals.

That does not mean there are not still quality players ready to hit the open market on July 1.

In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we take a look at the top-20 free agents available, starting with what could be — potentially — one of the biggest UFAs to hit the open market in recent history.

1. John Tavares, C — This is a no-brainer for the top of the list. Tavares is not only by far the best free agent available this summer, he is one of the best players in the NHL. Whether or not he actually gets to the open market remains to be seen. Usually players like him end up re-signing right where they are, and the New York Islanders still seem to be the favorite to get him back. But he has a lengthy list of teams he is speaking with during the open interview period and he would help make any of them an instant contender. (Signed: seven years, $77 million – John Tavares signs with Maple Leafs to live ‘childhood dream’)

2. James van Riemsdyk, LW — van Riemsdyk does one very important thing and he does it really, really well — he scores goals. A lot of goals. He is coming off a career-high 36-goal performance for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017-18 and over the past two years has been one of the top-15 goal scorers in the entire league. Along with that he has also scored at least 27 goals in four of the past five seasons (he scored 11 in 40 games in the other year). Not a superstar, not a player that is going to change the fortunes of your franchise, but there are not many players in the league that can put the puck in the net the way he has over the past five years. That is a valuable commodity. (Signed: five years, $35 million – James van Riemsdyk signing could spell end for Simmonds with Flyers)

3. Paul Stastny, C — Stastny ended up being one of the most impactful players to change teams at the trade deadline and is going to be a popular player on the open market. The Winnipeg Jets would love to keep him but they have a lot of work to do under the salary cap to make that happen. He is going to turn 33 this season but he has still been a remarkably steady 20-goal, 50-point center that posts strong possession numbers in recent years. He is not a No. 1 center, but if he is centering your second or third line your team is in pretty good shape. Given the lack of depth on the free agent market after Tavares and van Riemsdyk he is in a great position to get one more big pay day in his NHL career. (Signed: three years, $19.5 million with Vegas Golden Knights – Paul Stastny smart addition for Golden Knights)

4. Joe Thornton, C — This is a challenging one. Big picture, Thornton is one of the best players of all-time and a truly dominant two-way center. A slam dunk Hall of Famer. I would argue he would probably should have won the Hart Trophy two years ago when the Sharks went to the Stanley Cup Final. Now that he is just days away from turning 39 his play has obviously declined from that level and he is coming off of an injury-shortened season in 2017-18. The injury is going to be a concern. The age is going to be a concern. But here is the thing about Thornton: When he was healthy this past season he was still really good. He was on a 62-point pace over 82 games, still driving possession at an elite level, and still making an impact all over the ice. He would almost have to be a one-year deal at this point because anything more than that would probably be too much of a risk, but he can still help somebody right now. Health permitted. (Re-signed: One year, $5 million with the San Jose Sharks.)

5. James Neal, LW — Very similar to van Riemsdyk, only maybe not quite as productive. In the end you are going to get 25 goals and a forward that “plays with an edge.” Edge” meaning that he is probably just one shift away from taking a bad penalty or doing something that flirts with crossing the line into dirty territory. Good, productive player that has a lethal shot and will add some offense.

6. Rick Nash, LW — He had another difficult postseason showing in 2018, this time as a member of the Boston Bruins, but he is still a really good two-way player that can help in all phases of the game. He is probably only a 20-goal winger at this point but he can kill penalties, drive possession and just be a solid all-around player. You can knock his playoff production in recent years if you want — and you wouldn’t be wrong, it is what it is — but he is going to help somebody a lot this year. (Nash unsure about NHL return next season)

7. Mike Green, D — He is not a top-pairing defenseman anymore but he can still help your power play and add some offense from the blue line. The drawback: You have to assume he is going to miss at least 10-15 games and while he was never as bad defensively as his critics have always wanted you to believe, he probably gives up a little more in the defensive end than he once did. Now that Carlson has re-signed with the Capitals he is probably the most attractive option for a team looking to add some scoring punch from its defense. (Re-signed: two years, $10.75 million with Detroit Red Wings.)

8. David Perron, LW –– Based on the way he played in 2017-18 as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, he would be one of the top players available this summer (and to be fair — he still kind of is). But when you’re signing a free agent you’re not signing them for what they did a year ago, you’re signing them for what they are going to do for you this season. There is very little to suggest that Perron is going to duplicate his 66-point in 70-game performance. In other words, he is probably not as good as his regular season point production from this past season would indicate, and not as bad as his postseason struggles (resulting in him being a healthy scratch on occasion would indicate. (Signed: four years, $16 million – Blues bring back Perron yet again)

9. Thomas Vanek, LW — Vanek has entered the point of his career where he has pretty much become a short-term hired gun, having played for five different teams over the past three seasons. During that time he has scored at a 28-goal, 54-point pace per 82 games. (Signed: one year, $3 million with Detroit Red Wings.)

10. Tyler Bozak, C — Bozak’s career is an interesting one to look at. In the beginning he was viewed as a center that was mostly just riding shotgun along Phil Kessel and only racking up points because he played alongside an elite goal-scorer. To a point, that was kind of true because his production away from Kessel was barely that of a fourth-liner. But over the past few years he has become a much better player and even had some of his best years in the NHL over the past two seasons. (Signed: three years, $15 million with St. Louis Blues.)

11. Calvin de Haan, D — He was limited to just 33 games this past season for the Islanders. Do not expect a lot of offense from him, but he is a reliable defensive player that can move the puck out of his zone and be a steady player on defense.

12. Carter Hutton, G — The free agent goalie market is incredibly thin but Hutton is probably the one that is going to get the most attention. He was great for the Blues in limited work this season, finishing with a league-best .931 save percentage. That is the good news. The questionable news is he only played in 32 games. The other question mark: He turns 33 years old this season and we still don’t really know how good he actually is given that he has only played 138 games in the NHL. (Signed: three years, $8.25 million with Buffalo Sabres.)

13. Robin Lehner, G — Lehner was added to the unrestricted free agent market when the Buffalo Sabres decided not to tender him a contract as a restricted free agent. Could be a nice bounceback candidate for a team in need of goaltending help. He is coming off of a brutal 2017-18 season for the Sabres but in his first two years with the team was quite good while playing behind a terrible team.

14. Patrick Maroon, LW — Maroon is the type of player that can appeal to both old school hockey types and the analytics crowd. He is a big, physical player that also posts consistently strong possession numbers and pretty decent second-line production. He is probably never going to repeat his 27-goal effort from two years ago in Edmonton (and he didn’t this past season) but he still managed to finish with more points in fewer games in 2017-18.

15. Ian Cole, D — Cole played a fairly big role on two Stanley Cup winning teams in Pittsburgh but that probably did more to overrate him than anything else. He is really good third-pairing defenseman, a fearless shot-blocker, and a solid, if unspectacular player. If you go in with those expectations you will not be disappointed with what you get. If you expect him to significantly alter your defense or be anything more than that you will almost certainly be wondering what happened. (Signed: three years, $12.75 million with Colorado Avalanche.)

16. Michael Grabner, RW — When the New York Rangers went into rebuild mode this past season and started selling off their veterans Grabner became one of the most sought after players on the trade market. There is a lot to like about what he brings to the table. He is one of the fastest players in hockey, has scored 27 goals in each of the past two seasons, and can kill penalties. He will also probably be a source of frustration because based on the number of breakaways and odd-man rushes he helps create with his speed you will probably walk away from him wondering how he didn’t score 35 or 40 goals. (Signed: three years, $10.05 million with Arizona Coyotes.)

17. Riley Nash, C — A depth player for his entire career, Nash was fortunate enough to have a career year (15 goals, 41 points) in what was a contract year for him. He has consistently posted strong underlying numbers throughout his career so even though his goal-scoring spike this year mostly due to a spike in shooting percentage, there is still reason to believe he can be a useful depth player. (Signed: three years, $5.2 million with Columbus Blue Jackets)

18. Jonathan Bernier, G — While Nathan MacKinnon received a lot of attention for Colorado’s turnaround, one of the more underrated aspects of it was the simple fact their goaltending situation was not a raging dumpster fire all year. Bernier helped solidify the position by appearing in half of the team’s games and giving them league average goaltending, something he has done throughout his career. At this point that is pretty much what he is; a solid veteran that can be a good backup or platoon partner with another goalie that can get you through a season and fill in as a starter for extended periods of time. (Signed: three years, $9 million with Detroit Red Wings.)

19. John Moore, D — A thin crop of blue liners on the open market is going to probably be beneficial for players like Moore. The Devils leaned on him as a top-four defender the past three years, including for more than 20 minutes per night in 2017-18. He was solid in that role, but is probably best served as a third-pairing defender. (Signed: five years, $13.75 million with Boston Bruins.)

20. Derek Ryan, C  — Ryan didn’t make his NHL debut until he was 29 years old but he has managed to begin carving out a nice career for himself. His underlying numbers are tremendous (he was a 57 percent Corsi player this season for the Carolina Hurricanes) and he has scored 26 goals over the past two seasons, including 15 this past season. (Signed: three years, $9.375 million with 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.

What Doughty’s massive extension means for Kings, NHL

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The Los Angeles Kings announced an eight-year extension for star defenseman Drew Doughty days before it can become official.

While they didn’t confirm the money involved, the estimate is at about $88 million overall (or $11M per season), according to TSN’s Darren Dreger and LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen.

If accurate, Doughty will become the NHL’s highest-paid defenseman from a cap hit standpoint, as P.K. Subban‘s $9M currently represents the peak.

Of course, that’s where the fun starts, because Doughty is likely to have company in that range – if he isn’t surpassed – by Erik Karlsson. With that in mind, this contract carries massive implications, not just for the Kings or Doughty’s accountant, but also for other NHL defensemen and the league as a whole.

Let’s consider some of those impacts.

Kings take on another huge risk, arguably a necessary one

Los Angeles fired its primary architect when it let ex-GM Dean Lombardi go during the summer of 2017, yet his fingerprints remain all over this team. By handing this hearty extension to Drew Doughty, the Kings are tethered even more dramatically to this core group, for better or worse.

On one hand, still-relatively-new GM Rob Blake’s hands were tied. This team’s window to be competitive seemed like it was slammed shut heading into 2017-18, yet the team performed better than many expected, and they managed to make the playoffs. Doughty remains an absolutely vital piece to future bids to contend, right up there with Anze Kopitar.

And now he has the contract to match Kopitar.

Consider the massive amount of term and money devoted to players who are either in the waning years of their primes, or have already regressed. These are the guys who are least 30 years old and locked up for three or more seasons:

Doughty, 28, extension will kick in starting in 2019-20. $11M (approx.) per year through 2026-27.
Kopitar, 30, $10M cap hit through 2023-24.
Ilya Kovalchuk, 35, $6.25M through 2020-21
Dustin Brown, 33, $5.875M through 2021-22
Jonathan Quick, 32, $5.8M through 2022-23
Jeff Carter, 33, $5.272M through 2021-22
Dion Phaneuf, 33, $5.25M through 2020-21
Alec Martinez, 30, $4M through 2020-21

No doubt about it, Drew Doughty is still an elite defenseman today. He should be once his extension kicks in at age 29.

That said, in the four seasons since the Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup, they failed to win a single playoff series and missed the postseason twice. Those disappointing outcomes came with younger versions of those core players.

Kings management is taking a massive gamble that those players can play at or near that level for at least the early parts of Doughty’s extension. Even worthwhile gambles like signing Kovalchuk come with obvious risks, as he’s the oldest of that bunch and hasn’t tasted NHL action in a long, long time.

Yeah, this plan isn’t for the risk-averse.

Setting a new bar

Considering how the Ottawa Senators bought out Alex Burrows for relatively minimal savings, it sure feels like Erik Karlsson’s days are even more numbered after Doughty set a new standard for what a top defenseman could/should make.

(That smile you can almost feel is from GMs who signed their gems to better bargains earlier. As usual, Steve Yzerman is doing so, in this case thinking of Victor Hedman‘s $7.875M through 2024-25. Assuming everyone sticks to the plan, the Arizona Coyotes must be relieved that they chiseled something out with Oliver Ekman-Larsson before this deal was signed.)

It’s not just Karlsson who should be nodding in approval.

Despite this signing taking a big name out of the potentially robust 2019 Summer of Defensemen (and really good Columbus Blue Jackets), there are other interesting names. Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis is probably rubbing his chin thinking of what he might do with his megabucks, assuming his mountain man beard would permit it.

This deal could reverberate beyond the 2019 summer, too. Someone like Roman Josi (sorry Predators fans, it was a good run with cheap defensemen) must be smiling ear-to-ear to see that Doughty didn’t take a big hometown discount to stay in Los Angeles.

Oh, and thanks to how this may impact the future of Karlsson and others, the Doughty deal could also expedite the process for some big trades to stay ahead of the cap game.

In other words, this contract is almost as big for the rest of the NHL as it undoubtedly is for Doughty and the Kings. Will Los Angeles end up regretting this investment?

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.