Justin Braun

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Jake Gardiner could be free agent steal

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One of the most surprising developments this offseason has to be the fact Jake Gardiner, probably the top defender to hit the open market, remains unsigned nearly two weeks into the free agent signing period.

Not only is he still unsigned as of publication on Saturday, but there has also been complete radio silence on any potential interest in signing the defender.

Little to no speculation on potential teams, or contract terms, or … anything. It’s almost as if he no longer exists in the NHL, which is completely stunning given how good he has been and some of the other contracts that have been signed this summer.

How does a team give Tyler Myers $30 million over six years on the first day of free agency, or give up multiple draft picks in a trade for Justin Braun, while a better player (Gardiner) remains sitting out there unsigned for anyone to go after?

The concerns

Let’s start with health.

Gardiner was limited throughout the 2018-19 season by a back injury that sidelined him for 20 games and clearly limited him in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It creates quite a dilemma for any interested team because until this season Gardiner had been an extremely durable player, appearing in at least 75 games in six of his first seven seasons while playing more than 20 minutes per night every year. That includes five seasons where he played in at least 79 games, and back-to-back seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18 where he did not miss a single game.

Even though his injury has reportedly healed well this offseason, it is still understandable that a back injury for a 29-year-old defender could be a legitimate concern for a team on a long-term contract.

The other criticism that Gardiner faces is that he has had two of his worst games on the biggest possible stage, struggling in back-to-back Game 7 losses over the past two seasons.

But any team that puts more weight on those two games than his entire career track record is making a bad evaluation.

The playoffs are a strange beast because they are ultimately what teams (and players) are measured by when it comes to their success and/or failure. But that can also lead to a lot of mistakes because you are not always getting an accurate representation of what a team (or player) actually is. Especially when you drill it down to a single game, or even just a few single moments within a single game.

It is almost as if players that play on teams that don’t get into big games get evaluated more favorably than players that do, because the former hasn’t had a chance to have their flaws exposed or had a chance to have a bad performance in a big situation. Almost as if it’s better to NOT play in a big series or a big game, eliminating the risk of making a mistake that could be a negative on your track record, than it is to play in one and make that one mistake. I don’t necessarily think that teams are entirely shying away from Gardiner because he fumbled a few plays in Game 7s … but I also wouldn’t put it past teams to do that, either.

The production

The point with this is that the larger sampling should take greater priority over the one mistake in the one game you paid closest attention to.

When it comes to the larger sampling, Gardiner should be an attractive option because he has been a very good player.

He moves the puck well, he has consistently scored well in terms of possession and scoring chances throughout his career on teams that have not always been good in those areas, and he can provide some offense.

For his career he’s played 551 games, recorded 245 points, and has a career 51 percent Corsi percentage.

Among active defenders, he is one of only 12 defenders that hit all of those marks through their age 28 season, a list that also includes the likes of Victor Hedman, Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson, Alex Pietrangelo, P.K. Subban, Keith Yandle, Justin Faulk, and Dougie Hamilton. All of them were (and are) on significant long-term contracts by age 29. Most players that make it this far into free agency do not typically get long-term deals, so it’s possible that Gardiner has to settle for something less than expected at the start of the free agent signing period.

The Maple Leafs theory

Let’s just throw one more possible theory out there, just for laughs.

The theory: the Maple Leafs want to bring him back, he wants to return, but neither side can move on that until the team gets the Mitch Marner restricted free agent situation, and by extension, the rest of their salary cap situation, completely settled.

Is it likely? Probably not. But it’s hard to figure out why an otherwise good, productive player at an important position where there are not a lot of good, productive players available is still unsigned this far in the summer.

As long as he is healthy there is no reason to think he will not be the same productive, top-four defensemen he has been throughout his entire career for whatever team that signs him this summer.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Looking at every NHL team’s offseason

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With the 2019 NHL Draft in the rear-view mirror and all of the major unrestricted free agents signed, it is time to check in on how each team has improved (or failed to improve) so far this offseason.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we will be taking a look at the teams that have done the most (and the least) to get better.

Before we get to the rankings we do need to specify something very important: This is NOT a ranking of where each team stands in the league in terms of Stanley Cup contender or playoff status, or a ranking of how good each team is overall. It is simply a look at which teams have had the best and worst offseasons. If you have had a good offseason, you rank high. If you had a bad offseason, you rank low.

Obviously there is still time this summer for teams to get better (or worse), but this is simply a progress report of where their offseason stands right now.

Teams that are significantly better

1. New York Rangers. It would be difficult to have a better offseason than the one the Rangers have had. They added one of the league’s top offensive players (Artemi Panarin), a potential superstar thanks to some draft lottery luck (Kaapo Kakko), and a top-four defender (Jacob Trouba). They did all of that while giving up nothing of significance from their NHL roster. Is it a playoff team this season? That probably depends on how much Henrik Lundqvist has left in the tank, but they are close.

2. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban joining a core that already has Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall makes the Devils a fascinating team to watch. Now they just need to find a way to keep Hall beyond this season. Like the Rangers they may not be a playoff team this season, but they are definitely improved.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Losing Tyson Barrie off the blue line might hurt, but the Avalanche are loaded with young, impact defenders and by trading Barrie they found a perfect second-line center (Nazem Kadri) to complement Nathan MacKinnon … as long as Kadri stays on the ice and out of the player safety office. Along with the additions of Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky they now have some actual scoring depth to support their big three.

4. Dallas Stars. It would not be an NHL offseason without general manager Jim Nill raising another offseason championship banner. Even if Joe Pavelski shows some signs of decline and regresses from his 38-goal output this past season he is still just what the league’s most top-heavy team needed.

5. Arizona Coyotes. Phil Kessel is the big, headline-grabbing addition but Carl Soderberg could be a nice depth pickup as well. Even if Kessel starts to slow down he should still be able to run the Coyotes’ power play and make a significant impact.

Teams that are probably better

6. Florida Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky‘s contract will almost certainly be an albatross on their salary cap in the next three or four years and probably end up in a buyout, but he might get them to the playoffs a couple of times before that. Bobrovsky is the big name, but don’t sleep on Anton Stralman and Brett Connolly as depth additions.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs. Their salary cap concerns were always overblown and they were always going to find a way to get out of them. They not only shed a lot of bad contracts and almost certainly created enough space to re-sign Mitch Marner, but they also managed to add a much-needed top-defender in Barrie. Jason Spezza may not be what he once was, but he should be fine as a third-line center for this team.

8. Chicago Blackhawks. The worst defensive team in the league made two solid additions in Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan, then found a starting caliber goalie that just so happened to be a Vezina Trophy finalist this past season.

9. Minnesota Wild. Still do not understand the direction Paul Fenton has this team going in, but Mats Zuccarello is a definite upgrade in the short-term.

10. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene is a nice addition and gives them another impact forward that might help a dreadful power play. So why only “probably” better? Because they had to trade an impact defender for almost nothing to be able to sign him. How much better you think the Predators are depends on whether or not you think they needed Duchene more than Subban. Or, probably more accurately, if you think Duchene is that much more valuable than Subban.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Good teams that have stayed the same

11. St. Louis Blues. It has been a quiet offseason for the champs, adding nothing of significance and losing nothing of significance. Nothing wrong with that when you are parading the Stanley Cup around.

12. Boston Bruins. The Bruins look to be returning mostly the same roster next season, and it will still be a Stanley Cup contender.

13. Carolina Hurricanes. Some musical chairs in net, but there should not be much of a drop off. The big win this offseason was Montreal helping them out with Sebastian Aho’s new contract.

14. Washington Capitals. Radko Gudas is probably a better player than Matt Niskanen at this stage of his career. Andre Burakovsky never panned out, but they made a couple of solid depth signings to fill his spot.

15. Calgary Flames. Still a potential Stanley Cup team with one pretty massive flaw in net.

Bad teams that are marginally better

16. Buffalo Sabres. Colin Miller, Marcus Johansson, and Jimmy Vesey are all solid additions for what amounts to very little in cost. That is the good news. The bad news this team still has a long way to go before it is a serious threat in the Atlantic Division or Eastern Conference Wild Card races.

17. Vancouver Canucks. J.T. Miller is pretty good and an upgrade for their forward group, but does this team, in this position, in this stage of its rebuild, need to be doing things like trading a future first-round draft pick or giving Tyler Myers a five-year, $30 million contract? It’s like … you’re kinda better, but what’s the point? The Jim Benning era, folks.

Good Teams that have gotten worse

18. Pittsburgh Penguins. Does swapping Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta for Alex Galchenyuk, Dominik Kahun, and Brandon Tanev move you closer to a Stanley Cup? You should have serious doubts about that. At least the speculation on trading Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang turned out to be just that and nothing ever came from it.

19. San Jose Sharks. Keeping Erik Karlsson is significant, but losing Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and returning the same starting goalie is also significant … for the wrong reasons.

20. Tampa Bay Lightning. The salary cap crunch and the RFA status of Brayden Point has resulted in some subtractions to the roster and no significant additions. That makes them a little worse simply by default, but they are still going to be one of the top teams in the league. Instead of 60 games, they might win … 50? 55?

21. Winnipeg Jets. I don’t really want to call Kevin Hayes a “loss” since he only played 20 regular season games with the team, but they have lost a lot off of their blue line with very little coming in to replace it.

22. Vegas Golden Knights. They are going to miss Colin Miller, and might really miss out on Nikita Gusev if they move him before they even realize what they had.

23. New York Islanders. They kept all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, but going from Robin Lehner to Semyon Varlamov in net could be a huge downgrade. Given how important goaltending was to the Islanders’ success this past season that could be a problem.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets. The free agent exodus that everyone expected to happen took place with the departures of Panarin, Bobrovsky, and Duchene (and probably Ryan Dzingel). Gustav Nyquist is a fine pickup on a pretty fair deal, but they still lost a ton. And they still do not have a clear replacement for Bobrovsky.

Bad teams that have stayed the same 

25. Montreal Canadiens. The Aho offer sheet had us excited for about 20 minutes until we realized it was just a waste of everyone’s time. The only solution now is to try and offer sheet someone else!

26. Philadelphia Flyers. Kevin Hayes isn’t bad, but there is no way he plays out that seven-year contract in Philadelphia. They added Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen to their defense about four years after they should have. In the end, downgrading the defense (which I think they did) kind of cancels out whatever upgrade Hayes might be at forward. They have made a lot of transactions to remain right where they were.

27. Edmonton Oilers. Based on the moves this offseason (as well as the lack of moves) it seems likely that another prime season of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is about to be wasted. Such a shame.

28. Ottawa Senators. They brought in a bunch of new faces but nothing that is going to prevent this team from continuing to be one of the worst in the league.

29. Detroit Red Wings. Steve Yzerman has a lot of work to do and has been fairly quiet this summer.

30. Anaheim Ducks. They had to get rid of Corey Perry’s contract, but they still have a ton of money tied up in players on the wrong side of 30 (or very close to 30).

31. Los Angeles Kings. So far their effort to rebuild and get younger has involved trading Jake Muzzin and buying out Dion Phaneuf. The longer they drag their feet in gutting this roster the longer this team will remain in the basement.

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.

Mixed emotions for Sharks as Meier re-signs, Pavelski leaves

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — For San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, the start of free agency was a day of mixed emotions.

The joy of locking up forward Timo Meier with a four-year, $24 million contract Monday was tempered by the loss of Joe Pavelski to Dallas because the Sharks didn’t have the salary cap room to keep their captain after handing out a $92 million contract to Erik Karlsson last month.

”It’s emotional,” Wilson said. ”You have a heart, you have a head, and you understand these decisions have to be made and they get made. You have mixed emotions. Very excited for Timo, very excited for the opportunities that are coming for the rest of the team. But you love what Joe Pavelski and Sarah brought to this organization for so many years. It’s a reality of this business and this system. That part doesn’t make it any easier.”

Pavelski developed from a unheralded seventh-round pick in 2003 to one of the greatest players in Sharks history, ranking second in team history in goals (355), third in points (761) and fourth in games played (963).

Pavelski, who turns 35 this month, also was a leader as captain the past four seasons and favorite of both the fans and his teammates. Never was that more evident than this past postseason when he suffered a bloody concussion following a cross check in Game 7 of the first round against Vegas.

After he was helped off the ice, his teammates rallied for their fallen leader by scoring four goals on the ensuing major power play to advance to the second round. Pavelski got a thunderous ovation during Game 5 the following round when he came out waving a towel during a break in the third period and then returned to the ice for Game 7 when he scored the first goal.

The Sharks now must replace Pavelski’s scoring (38 goals last season) as well as his leadership.

”When you have a player like that leaving, it’s a chance for young players to step up in a bigger role,” Meier said. ”That’s my mindset, to come into the next season and hopefully get a spot on the first power play, get some more playing time. I want to take full advantage of that opportunity.

Meier, who turns 23 in October, is coming off a breakthrough season when he became a fixture as a top six forward in San Jose. He had 30 goals and 36 assists in 78 games, making a major jump from his first full season when he had 36 points in 81 games.

Making Meier even more valuable was the fact that he did almost all of his damage at even strength, tying for second on the team with 24 goals and ranking second with 55 points in those situations. Meier added five goals and 10 assists in the playoffs.

”When you see players like that play a man’s game and have a great scoring touch, I don’t think you can put a ceiling on where he can get to,” Wilson said. ”The opportunities that will be coming to both him and Tomas Hertl will be very exciting for this franchise.”

The Sharks also re-signed defenseman Tim Heed to a one-year deal. The 28-year-old Heed had two goals and 11 assists in 37 games last season and should slot in to replace Justin Braun on San Jose’s third pairing.

San Jose also lost forwards Gustav Nyquist to Columbus and Joonas Donskoi to Colorado in free agency but could still bring back two franchise icons before long.

Wilson said he hopes to have a deal with forward Joe Thornton finalized in ”due time” after Thornton expressed a desire to return for another season at age 40.

Forward Patrick Marleau also could return two years after leaving for Toronto in free agency. Marleau had the final year of his contract bought out by Carolina last month and has expressed a desire to return to the Sharks. Marleau is the franchise’s all-time leader in goals, points and games played.

Flyers’ Fletcher continues to be the anti-Hextall

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When the Philadelphia Flyers fired Ron Hextall back in November it was pretty obvious the organization had become fed up with his patient approach to building the roster.

During his time as the team’s general manager, Hextall completed just 14 (mostly) insignificant trades and made only a handful of headline grabbing free agent signings (bringing back James van Riemsdyk).

Among the trades he made…

  • One of them involved nothing but draft picks as he moved down four spots in the 2016 first round.
  • Two of them were done for the purposes of dumping significant amounts of salary still owed to the likes of Chris Pronger, Luke Schenn, and Vincent Lecavalier.
  • There were a couple of minor trade deadline deals involving rentals and mid-round draft picks. Nothing that was ever going to move the needle. The most significant trade was probably moving Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera and two first-round draft picks.

This type of inaction was never going to sit well with a team like the Flyers whose entire existence is synonymous with chaos, whether it be on the ice or making bold moves to re-shape the roster.

When discussing the firing of Hextall, Paul Holmgren (who had his share of completely insane roster overhaul as the team’s general manager) said the front office and Hextall “no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team,” while CEO Dave Scott literally said they were looking for a GM that had a “bias for action.”

Well, Chuck Fletcher has certainly been that, and he continued it on Monday afternoon when he traded restricted free agent Ryan Hartman to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Tyler Pitlick.

It is by no means an earth-shattering trade, and is really only noteworthy for two reasons.

The first being that it shows just how far Hartman’s stock has fallen in a short period of time. Keep in mind, he was traded (from Chicago to Nashville) for a first-round pick not even 18 months ago, and was then sent to the Flyers at this year’s trade deadline in the deal that sent Wayne Simmonds to the Predators.

Now he is off to Dallas for in a one-for-one swap for a fourth-liner that is three years older than him.

The second reason is that it is already the ninth trade that Fletcher has made since December when he was hired by the Flyers, and that number is not counting the two trades he made at the NHL draft over the weekend where he moved down from the 11th pick to the 14th pick in the first round, and then later completed a swap of seventh-round picks with the Montreal Canadiens.

There is your bias for action.

This is already Fletcher’s fourth trade this offseason involving NHL roster players after trading Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals for Matt Niskanen, trading draft picks to the San Jose Sharks for Justin Braun, and giving up a draft pick for the rights to unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes and then signing him to a massive contract to keep him off the open market.

When it comes to roster moves and action he is already the anti-Ron Hextall.

But what does this mean for the results on the ice?

Until the offseason most of the trades Fletcher completed were lateral moves, like trading Anthony Stolarz for a few months of Cam Talbot, or dumping veterans at the deadline in what had quickly become a lost season.

But the summer trades have become a little more meaningful and costly.

Adding Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun to your blue line would have probably been a good idea if it was still 2015. But it’s not still 2015. Neither player is what they were a few years ago, their additions added some pretty significant salary to the Flyers’ cap situation, while there is a pretty strong argument to be made that Gudas is better than both new players at this very moment in their respective careers.

As for Hayes, well, he is a pretty good player and would have probably received a similar contract on the open market had he reached free agency, but he is now the third-highest paid player on the roster and currently has one of the 45 biggest cap hits in the league … all for a 27-year-old that has topped 20 goals and 50 points in a single season exactly one time. It seems almost inevitable that within four years (maybe less) they are going to be eating salary in a trade when trying to move that contract to another team.

At the risk of overusing a tired sports cliche when it comes to roster construction, there is a “rearranging the deck chairs” kind of vibe to what is happening with the Flyers so far under Fletcher.

The names and faces are different, but the overall outlook is still pretty much the same.

It was clear that Hextall’s patient approach was not moving the Flyers forward because keeping the same roster in place was only maintaining the mediocrity the team had sunk into.

Fletcher has definitely been more aggressive and proactive in trying to improve the team, but it remains to be seen how much better they are after all of the dust settles.

They are a very different team, yes.

But are they a better team in any sort of meaningful way?

That answer will largely depend on how much Niskanen and Braun still have remaining in the tank and how much you like Kevin Hayes.

More from the Flyers
Flyers acquire Justin Braun as Sharks shed salary
Flyers trade Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen
Flyers, Hayes agree to seven-year, $50 million contract 

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.

Sanheim gets two-year bridge contract with Flyers

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The Philadelphia Flyers took care of one of their restricted free agents on Monday when they announced a two-year contract with defenseman Travis Sanheim.

It is a bridge deal for Sanheim that will still keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires at the end of the 2020-21 season and will pay him $3.25 million per season.

“We are very pleased with the progress Travis has made in his young career,” said general manager Chuck Fletcher in a team statement. “He is a skilled, two-way defenseman with excellent size and mobility. He is a big part of our present and our future.”

The 23-year-old Sanheim just completed his second season in the NHL, appearing in all 82 games and finishing with nine goals and 26 assists. His 35 total points were second among the team’s blue-liners, finishing behind only Shayne Gostisbehere‘s 37 points.

The Flyers still have some pretty significant restricted free agents to come to terms with, including Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny.

Where Sanheim fits in the Flyers’ plans this season remains to be seen as Fletcher has spent the early part of the offseason reshaping his team’s defense by trading Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Matt Niskanen, and also acquiring Justin Braun from the San Jose Sharks. With Niskanen and Braun in the mix, the Flyers will have eight NHL defensemen under contract this season once Provorov gets signed.

More from the Flyers
Flyers acquire Justin Braun as Sharks shed salary
Flyers trade Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen
Flyers, Hayes agree to seven-year, $50 million contract 

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.