Jonathan Bernier

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The Buzzer: Mantha among boys

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Three Stars

1. Anthony Mantha, Detroit Red Wings

Well, the Predators should feel a little better on Sunday than they did on Saturday. The night before, Nashville fared about as well vs. Mantha, Dylan Larkin, and Tyler Bertuzzi as normal pants hold up against Larkin in Detroit’s 5-3 win. They were stretched too thin and didn’t stand a chance, in other words.

Mantha was even tougher to stop on Sunday. Through the second period and the opening moments of the third, Mantha scored three goals in a row (a natural hat trick), flipping a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 lead for Detroit over Dallas. The Stars ended up tying the game, but it was all for naught, as Mantha scored the fourth goal, and ultimately the game-winner, with less than a minute remaining.

It’s probably unfair to label the game “Mantha 4, Stars 3,” but that does capture the goal-scoring. The big winger now has five goals and two assists for seven points in two games. Larkin and Filip Hronek factored into that win, too, with two assists apiece.

2. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

A lot was made about the Islanders moving on from Robin Lehner to Semyon Varlamov during the offseason, and with good reason. Lehner was a revelation last season, and betting on Varlamov is pretty bold.

But for all the attention Lehner justifiably received for his work in 2018-19, Greiss put up numbers that were almost as outstanding, going 23-14-2 with a magnificent .927 save percentage.

Greiss began this season on a similar note, stopping 35 out of 36 shots from the Jets to help the Islanders beat Winnipeg handily on Sunday. So far, Barry Trotz’s system and the Islanders’ goalies are looking strong.

3. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes

There were plenty of worthy two-point performances on Sunday that you could argue for, including Roope Hintz of the Dallas Stars, whose two goals gave his team a chance against the Mantha onslaught.

Hamilton’s all-around performance might have been the most worthy of the third star, though. He scored the goal that sent Sunday’s game to overtime, and also generated an assist. As mentioned in this post on that game against the Lightning, Hamilton is tied for the Hurricanes’ team points lead with four so far in 2019-20.

Hamilton generated three SOG, took a penalty, delivered a hit, and logged 25:19 TOI.

Highlight of the Night

Thanks to Mantha most of all, the Stars lost in regulation, falling to 0-3-0.

The Stars were about as close to sending the game to overtime as you could be, though, especially when Alexander Radulov was hacking away at Jonathan Bernier‘s pads during the waning seconds of the game. Bernier stood strong — or at least strong enough to survive the review process — and secured a perfect weekend for Detroit. Not bad, being that the Stars and Predators both made the playoffs last season, and brought significant expectations into 2019-20.

Factoids

  • Mantha joined John Sorrell (Nov. 12, 1933) and Brendan Shanahan (Oct. 16, 1998) as the only Red Wings to generate a natural hat trick. Sorrell and Mantha are the only two Red Wings to score four goals during a home-opener. (via NHL PR)
  • In coaching his 1,608th NHL game, Barry Trotz broke a tie with Al Arbour to be alone at third all-time. Trotz is only 30 behind Joel Quenneville, so it should be fascinating to see which of those two ends up with more games behind the bench once they’re both done.
  • NHL PR notes that the Hurricanes became the 13th team in league history to win their first three games while overcoming a deficit. The 2005-06 Predators and 1988-89 Kings are the two teams who’ve done it four times. They’re also the third team to start their season 3-0-0 with all three wins coming beyond regulation, according to Sportsnet stats.

Scores

CAR 4, TBL 3 (OT)
DET 4, DAL 3
NYI 4, WIN 1

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.

Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman practices patience in free agency

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DETROIT — Steve Yzerman is practicing patience in his first year as the Detroit Red Wings’ general manager.

On the opening day of free agency, the Hockey Hall of Famer and former Red Wings great made some subtle moves to improve his roster without saddling the rebuilding franchise with big contracts.

Detroit signed both center Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Patrik Nemeth to two-year , $6 million contracts and added goaltender Calvin Pickard with a two-year deal.

”We’re looking at doing shorter-term deals with everyone that we spoke with,” Yzerman said Monday. ”Being new to the organization, I want to proceed somewhat slowly and kind of get to know what we have within the organization.”

Yzerman is trying to turn around a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016, its longest drought since a five-year skid ended in 1984 when he was a rookie in Detroit.

The Red Wings have a core of young players, led by Dylan Larkin, to build around and a slew of prospects they hope are pushing for playing time in the NHL. Yzerman is counting on a trio of veterans to add depth as complementary players.

He is also reuniting with Filppula for a third time.

Filppula, who helped Detroit win the 2008 Stanley Cup, played with Yzerman with the Red Wings and was signed by him in Tampa Bay.

”It’s always important to feel like the team wants you,” the 35-year-old Finn said. ”I know Stevie from before and have a good relationship.”

Filppula had 17 goals and 31 points last season with the New York Islanders. He has scored 185 times and has 494 points over 14 seasons with Detroit, Philadelphia the Lightning and the Islanders.

Likely on the second or third line, he is expected to play center to allow Andreas Athanasiou to play on the wing.

”We had a hole in the middle,” Yzerman said.

Nemeth had one goal and 10 points last year in Dallas. The 27-year-old Swede has four goals and 35 assists over six seasons with the Stars and Colorado Avalanche. Detroit may have to replace Niklas Kronwall, a key player on the blue line, to make help on the blue line even more of a priority. Yzerman has said Kronwall, a 38-year-old defenseman, can take his time this summer to decide whether he wants to return to play for the Red Wings or retire.

”With the uncertainty of Nik Kronwall and Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson missed time with injuries and going into the last year of their contracts,” Yzerman said, ”it was important to bring in a defenseman that can play now on the left side and help us in the future as well.”

Detroit signed Pickard to compete with Jonathan Bernier to be Jimmy Howard‘s backup and perhaps to give the team three goaltenders.

”Gives us a little bit of security,” Yzerman said.

Pickard is 32-50-9 with a 2.93 goals-against average during his five-season career with Colorado, Toronto, Philadelphia and Arizona. The 27-year-old Canadian was winless in four starts last season with the Coyotes.

Red Wings rebuild won’t be easy, but Yzerman is right GM choice

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Detroit Red Wings fans are right to rejoice. While the move’s been telegraphed for a while, this is indeed a good Friday for the Red Wings, as Steve Yzerman was officially named as their next GM.

Whether it was convincing Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman to sign team-friendly deals, or identifying the league’s general prejudice against smaller players to unearth draft day bargains, Yzerman* did such a great job with the Tampa Bay Lightning, that I’ve called him a magician and/or wizard on multiple occasions.

Even if you’re a vociferous defender of Ken Holland’s latter, sometimes-rebuild-resistant years, chances are, you’re probably very excited about Yzerman’s hiring. The team announced official titles for both Yzerman and Holland, if you like your updates especially granular.

So, to me and plenty others – not just Red Wings fans – this is a shrewd hire.

Still, if there’s one talking point that stands out as especially valid, it’s this: when Yzerman took over the Lightning, he already had an elite center in Steven Stamkos, and a future Norris-winning defenseman in Victor Hedman.

All due respect to Dylan Larkin (who had a strong season, and is only 22) and some other nice players, but the Red Wings don’t have foundational players at quite that superstar level. They do, however, have a pretty interesting setup. If Yzerman is as bright as he seemed to be in Tampa Bay, the Red Wings could really turn things around. All they need is some luck and patience.

Let’s get an idea of the path ahead for Yzerman.

On a Larkin

Look, there’s no shame in Larkin not being quite what Stamkos was in 2010, when Stevie Y took over in Tampa Bay. It’s easy to forget just how potent Stamkos was (the NHL’s most goals [156] and second-most points [283] from 2009-10 to 2010-11), possibly because a few catastrophic injuries briefly derailed his career.

Larkin is fantastic, and stands as the sort of contract you’d build around: a 22-year-old star with a bargain $6.1 million cap hit running through 2022-23.

Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi showed great chemistry with Larkin late in the season, with Mantha in particular boasting the sort of pedigree that points to continued success. One of Yzerman’s early challenges will be to strike affordable deals with Mantha, Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou, three useful forwards whose contracts expire after 2019-20. Would the best deals come in earlier extensions, or would the Red Wings be wiser to wait? It’s up to Yzerman & Co. to decide, and getting good deals could be key if they want to build a winning core.

Early fruits of rebuild

While I’d argue that Holland dragged his feet multiple times when it came to the rebuilding process, the good news is that when Holland did act, he landed some nice building blocks. In trading away Gustav Nyquist, Nick Jensen, and especially Tomas Tatar, the Red Wings have really loaded up on draft picks, most of which land in the top three rounds.

The development processes are already underway for a few interesting prospects, particularly 2018 first-rounders Filip Zadina (sixth overall) and Joe Veleno (30th). The Red Wings once again pick sixth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, so it’s up to Yzerman to land another blue-chipper, even if Detroit doesn’t get the luxury of a more obvious choice like Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko.

Almost as important is that the Red Wings have loaded up on picks like they’re at Prospect Costco:

  • Last year, they had those two first-rounders, plus: two second-rounders, and three third-rounders to go with their normal set of choices (minus a fifth-rounder).
  • Via Cap Friendly’s handy chart, the Red Wings have two extra second-round picks and one additional fifth-rounder in 2019.
  • In 2020, they have an extra second and third-round pick. (The third-rounder could turn into a second-rounder depending upon the San Jose Sharks’ actions.)
  • They already have an extra third-rounder in 2021.

That’s a fantastic start, eh? Even the best drafting teams would admit that there’s a lot of “dart throwing” involved in drafting, so it makes sense to load up on those darts, especially when you get the added precision of picks in earlier rounds.

The Lightning were adept at finding quality talent off-the-beaten-path under Yzerman,* most notably identifying Brayden Point as a third-rounder (79th in 2014) and Nikita Kucherov in a second round (58th in 2011). If Yzerman can carry that success over to Detroit, even partially, the Red Wings could really make some exciting leaps.

Cleanup duty

Which brings us to the messier part.

For all of Holland’s accomplishments, he left behind a shaggy salary structure. There’s dead money (Stephen Weiss’ buyout lingers through 2020-21), scary contracts (Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser), and, erm, maybe too much of a “veteran presence.”

By that I mean this team is old, at least beyond the core. Niklas Kronwall is 38 with a (mercifully) expiring contract, both Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley are 35, and Mike Green is a very banged-up 33. DeKeyser is oft-criticized and not really a spring chicken, either, at 29.

The goalie duo is also creaky. Jimmy Howard was fantastic in 2018-19, but at 35, it’s still surprising that the Red Wings didn’t trade him, even with the understanding that they’d come calling during free agency time in July. Jonathan Bernier is 30 and his $3M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.

Most of those trends are disturbing, and while the Red Wings need more talent basically everywhere, the defense and goaltending likely need the most strenuous surgery.

The good news is that a significant chunk of those contracts aren’t lingering too long after Yzerman takes the reins. Kronwall is headed to free agency (or retirement?), while Ericsson, Green, and Daley come off the books after 2019-20. Howard’s extension only lasts through 2019-20, so maybe Yzerman will get trade value out of the veteran where Holland could or would not.

In the short term, and in the case of a few lengthier deals, there’s a significant mess to clean up. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t too dim, however.

Some pain for future gains

I’ve seen at least mild arguments to try to win now, with at least a portion of The Athletic’s Craig Custance piece (sub required) mentioning certain surprise stories in the NHL. And, sure, if the goal were only to make it back to the playoffs (and maybe even win a series), then speeding up the rebuild would make sense.

My guess is that mega-winner Stevie Y wants his best chance at a Stanley Cup, not merely getting the Red Wings to the playoff bubble.

The free agent market dries up pretty quickly when you realize that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky likely wouldn’t find much of a lure to join a rebuilding team in a cold weather city (heck, “Detroiters” even got canceled).

So, instead of chasing mid-tier free agents and settling for mid-tier expectations, Yzerman should use his clout to absorb another rebuild year or two. Doing so would raise the ceiling on this rebuild, for a few reasons:

  • Most directly and obviously, tanking for an even better pick in 2020. If you look at the teams who regularly contend, virtually all of them required high-end talent found early in drafts.
  • Rather than giving valuable playing time to long-in-the-tooth veterans, why not let younger players learn on the job? You might just get an idea of what you have in, say, Michael Rasmussen. Difference-making players are hitting the NHL earlier and earlier, so why not find out which players can actually make a difference?
  • Allow the Red Wings to be a short-term receptacle to clear cap space, with Detroit taking a bribe, whether that means quality draft picks or useful players. See: the Coyotes landing an important scorer in Vinnie Hinostroza in exchange for keeping Marian Hossa‘s contract warm. Yzerman could even call up his buddies in Tampa Bay and offer to absorb the final year of Ryan Callahan‘s contract ($5.8M cap hit). Boy, Anthony Cirelli and/or Mathieu Joseph would look nice with a winged wheel …
  • Going further, getting more cap space means that the Red Wings could position themselves to land better players in trades than they’d likely entice in free agency. Perhaps teams would ready for the expansion draft by sending good, would-be-exposed players to Detroit for something? Maybe the Hurricanes would sour on Dougie Hamilton, or something similar would happen with P.K. Subban, considering his hefty $9M price tag? Could the Red Wings echo former exec Jim Nill in being the next team to say “Why, yes, we’d love to take Tyler Seguin for 25 cents on the dollar, thank you.”

***

This isn’t an easy job, and again, some of this comes down to luck. Still, it’s easy to see why Red Wings fans are excited.

Make no mistake about it, though: Yzerman has his work cut out for him. It could be the fun sort of work that you’d get from tinkering with a car in the garage, and it should be fascinating for those of us who are dorks when it comes to studying how teams are put together.

* – And his staff, including current GM Julien BriseBois. We could have a lengthy, basically impossible-to-resolve discussion about who was most responsible for the great building in Tampa Bay, but it would be pretty fruitless. And, really, wouldn’t all smart GMs want to surround themselves with other smart people?

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.

Red Wings give Blashill two-year extension to continue developing youth

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Another playoff-less spring means the Detroit Red Wings have already begun working on the 2019-20 NHL season. First, they extended goaltender Jimmy Howard and now they’re bringing back head coach Jeff Blashill.

The Red Wings announced on Thursday that Blashill has agreed to a two-year extension through the 2020-21 season. He was hired in June 2015 and has headed up a rebuild that is still on-going, but has some bright spots to it.

Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou each hit the 30-goal mark for the first time during career years, while Anthony Mantha hit 20 goals for the second straight season, and Tyler Bertuzzi took a big step forward as part of a developing Red Wing core. There’s still plenty of age on the roster beyond this season — Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Jonathan Ericcsson, Trevor Daley, and likely Niklas Kronwall, whose contract expires this summer — but a youth movement is afoot. In general manager Ken Holland’s eyes Blashill is the right choice to continue to lead this transition phase.

“Jeff has done a tremendous job developing our young talent as we continue to rebuild our organization,” said Holland in a statement. “Our young players have made significant strides during his time as head coach and are playing important minutes in key situations. As we continue to build towards the future, we have the utmost confidence that Jeff is the coach best suited to help our prospects become impactful NHL players. He has gained valuable experience as an NHL coach in each of his four years in Detroit and has instilled a work ethic in our current team that makes us hard to play against every night and competitive in every game, which is the identity we want our team to have as we move forward.”

The one solution the Red Wings have yet to find is a goaltender of the future who can step in in a year or two. With Howard’s extension and Jonathan Bernier still under contract through the end of next season, Holland has $7.25M invested between the pipes for 2019-20.

A two-year extension is a short enough leash that a change could be made if things aren’t trending in the right direction. There’s plenty of speculation about Holland’s future as well. He signed two-year deal last April, but his name has been constantly brought up in rumors surrounding the GM position for the Seattle franchise, which isn’t entering the NHL until the 2020-21 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.

Red Wings sign Jimmy Howard to one-year extension

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The Detroit Red Wings are prepared to enter the 2019-20 NHL season with the exact same goaltending duo they have this season after the team announced on Wednesday that it has signed starting goalie Jimmy Howard to a one-year contract extension.

Financial terms of the deal were not released by the team, but according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, it could be worth upwards of $5.1M, with $1.1M of it available through playoff bonuses should the Red Wings qualify next spring.

The 35-year-old goalie said on Tuesday, via NHL.com, that he is perfectly willing to keep signing one-year contracts after this season because the Red Wings have treated him so well throughout his career and he does not want to do anything to hurt their chances to build a team. The Red Wings are the only team Howard has played for during his career after they selected him in the second round of the 2003 NHL draft. He has been their No. 1 goalie since the 2009-10 season and pretty consistently been a league average, to slightly above league average goalie.

The 2018-19 season has been a tale of two seasons for Howard as he started off with what looked to be one of the best performances of his career, especially when you consider he has been playing behind a rebuilding team that is currently one of the league’s worst.

But his production started to regress a bit throughout January and February and currently has him sitting with a .908 save percentage in 44 appearances.

With Howard’s deal now officially signed, the Red Wings’ goalie situation is totally set for next season as Jonathan Bernier will still be signed for two more seasons at a salary cap hit of $3 million. Howard’s new deal, however, does not include a no-trade clause, allowing the team to move him for the right deal.

The fact the Red Wings, a team that is supposedly rebuilding and looking toward the future, are prepared to enter another season with two goalies over the age of 30 that will eat up more than $7 million in salary cap space is a testament to just how thin they are at the position throughout the organization. At some point they are going to have to find a younger, long-term solution because neither goalie they have now will be a part of the next contending team in Detroit.

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.