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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.

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.

Sabres should not trade Ryan O’Reilly

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Look, when you nab the top pick of the draft, chances are you’re in a rebuild.

Whether they wanted to be in this spot again or not, the Buffalo Sabres certainly played like a rebuilding franchise once again in 2017-18, putting themselves in a position to win the Rasmus Dahlin lottery. The Swedish defenseman stands as quite the balm after this team’s been humiliated by multiple stunted attempts at growth.

Ryan O'Reilly clearly chafes at these stumbles.

He memorably opened up after this rough season, stating that he believed that the Sabres eventually adopted a “losing mindset.”

“It’s crept into all of our games. Yeah, it’s disappointing. It’s sad,” O’Reilly said in early April. “I feel throughout the year I’ve lost the love of the game multiple times, and just need to get back to it because it’s eating myself up, and eats the other guys up, too.”

When you utter a comment like that, it’s only natural to find your name in trade rumors. That’s especially true for an expensive player like O’Reilly, who carries a $7.5 million cap hit through 2022-23.

The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that, while the Sabres are willing to listen to trade offers for anyone not named Jack Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt:

Botterill isn’t shopping O’Reilly, but the feeling here is he’s being prudent. If you call the Sabres GM these days, he’ll listen on anybody you’re asking about except Eichel and Mittelstadt. Montreal and Vancouver are well-known to be interested in O’Reilly, and Carolina is looking to completely retool its team under new owner Tom Dundon.

I must agree with Harrington’s overall point that the Sabres shouldn’t trade “ROR.” At least, not right now.

Allow me to expand among that sentiment.

Back in March, The Athletic’s James Mirtle discussed (sub required) “how the Maple Leafs’ rebuild left the Sabres’ in the dust.” Mirtle and others have praised Toronto for rebuilding in a smart fashion: tearing away the fat, keeping useful prime-age players, and then crossing your fingers that you’ll get lucky and land some blue-chip players.

In that analogy, I believe that Ryan O’Reilly could be Buffalo’s (admittedly more expensive) answer to Nazem Kadri.

O’Reilly might not be a star player, but he’s the type of two-way center that teams need in the playoffs. His possession stats and faceoff skills, all while taking on some tough assignments, point to his potential to battle for Selke nominations if he can find himself on better teams. The Sabres should make it a point that he finds himself on better teams in Buffalo.

“ROR” has generated 20+ goals in four of his last five seasons, generating at least 55 points in all five. That might not blow your mind, but that sort of production is very helpful, especially when you consider how much of a “plus” player he is from a defensive standpoint.

At 27, he’s still smack-dab in the middle of his prime, and his contract doesn’t provide too many worries from an “aging curve” perspective. It only looks bad when your team is floundering, as the Sabres have been … but might not be forever.

The most obvious upgrade is the one that inspires some level of tentativeness: Dahlin should help their defense. Considering how bad that blueline group has been, it’s not outrageous to picture the much-hyped prospect to immediately step into an important role.

There will be growing pains, no doubt, yet Buffalo’s already given up one of its few, reliable scorers in (understandably and inevitably but painfully) trading away Evander Kane. If you want to make real progress, you need to add more than you subtract. The Sabres need to get back on that wavelength rather than taking more steps back, as they’d do if they traded O’Reilly for futures.

Speaking of futures …

One thing that alleviates much of the discomfort of the O’Reilly price tag is the bountiful young talent in Buffalo.

Dahlin would be on his entry-level contract for three seasons, almost certainly burning off his first in 2018-19. Mittelstadt’s rookie deal will expire after 2019-20. If Alex Nylander can get on track and at least be an everyday NHL player, that’s another ELC to Buffalo’s benefit.

Sam Reinhart showed signs of progress lately, and it’s plausible that the Sabres will reach an affordable deal with the RFA. Buffalo also will see some problem contracts burn off soon, as Jason Pominville‘s $5.6M goes away after 2018-19 and Zach Bogosian‘s $5.1M mark mercifully dissolves after two more seasons.

Getting cheap production from Dahlin, Mittelstadt, (ideally) Nylander, and possibly Reinhart nullifies much of the hand-wringing over how much O’Reilly costs.

And the Sabres can make him more worth keeping by adding more talent around him.

They’ll need to address their goaltending situation one way or another, whether that means re-signing promising RFA Robin Lehner, finding someone else, or possibly a combination of two.

Considering that Buffalo currently only has just $55.8M committed to the cap (via Cap Friendly), it’s conceivable that they could make a big splash. How does John Carlson feel about sweaters and snow tires?

***

Now, there’s the possibility that some team would offer a truly equitable trade.

If it was a pure “hockey trade,” than Buffalo would have to at least consider moving O’Reilly. Getting a strong defenseman would possibly be worth parting ways with an effective-but-expensive second-line center.

Overall, though, the Sabres need to move forward rather than falling back or taking lateral steps. As much as landing Dahlin (er, “the first pick”) brightens Buffalo’s future, it also makes a strong argument against punting the present.

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.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson handed stiff three-game suspension

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He may have gotten away with it during Tuesday’s game, but Tom Wilson didn’t escape the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Wednesday.

The Washington Capitals forward was handed a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese.

Wilson wasn’t penalized on the play. Aston-Reese suffered a broken jaw and a concussion stemming from the collision in the second period.

Wilson will be eligible to return to the Capitals lineup for Game 7 of the series, if it makes it there. The Capitals currently lead the Penguins 2-1 after a 4-3 win on Tuesday.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

DOPS head George Parros said Wilson elevated his left shoulder into the hit, causing Aston-Reese’s head to become the main point of contact.

Parros determined that the hit was avoidable and that Aston-Reese made no sudden move to result in the headshot. He also noted that Wilson could have made a full-body hit, but instead changes course, extends up onto the toes of his skate.

“The onus is on the player to ensure this upward motion does not pick the head in a way that makes it the main point of contact,” Parros said.

Wilson falls into the repeat offender category as stipulated in the CBA.

Wilson escaped unscathed in Game 2 after catching defenseman Brian Dumoulin in the head.

Wilson is the second player to be suspended for three games after Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri was given the same suspension for the same offense in the first round.

Wilson was last suspended for an illegal check on Blues forward Sammy Blais during the preseason. The incident cost the Capitals forward the first four games of the regular season. Earlier in the preseason, Wilson also sat for two games for interfering with Blues forward Robert Thomas.


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

Maple Leafs hope playing ‘desperate’ aids them vs. Bruins

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Mike Babcock loves himself some clam chowder, so going back to Boston for Game 7 against the Bruins Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream) means he has that option again for a pre-game meal.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have put themselves in this situation with two straight wins after being down 3-1 in their opening round series with the Bruins. The talk about the collapse from five years ago, and the fall-out from that, is in the past, as both teams face a win-or-go-home night ahead.

“There’s no more bullets left in the chamber. This is it,” said Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk. “This is your last shot to move on or go home. Obviously, even that much more, the desperation gets amplified.”

TD Garden will be loud and energy-filled and emotions will be high with the stakes being what they are. The Maple Leafs played a much smarter game in Game 6, taking only two penalties compared to the six power plays they gave the Bruins in Game 5. Boston’s power play is second in the NHL this postseason (31.6 percent), and any time Toronto allows the Bruins to play with a man advantage is time that’s taking away from their stars being able to create scoring opportunities at even strength.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The approach will be the same refrain you hear from head coaches in these situations: keep it simple. No major adjustments, no overhauling of a game plan for a new 60-minute battle — just worry about puck possession and do your job.

How much does scoring first help? Historically, the team that scores first has won 75 percent of the time (126-43) in Game 7s. That’s all built into Babcock’s plan, as well as the message to his team about not being afraid of what’s in front of them.

“I think the other thing you’ve got to do, and I’ve talked quite a bit about this, there’s only certain moments in your life that turn into memories,” Babcock said on Wednesday. “This is one of them right here tonight. Make it a great memory. We have an opportunity here today to enjoy ourselves, to embrace the situation, to play well, to play hard. We’re capable. Let’s do that.”

This will be the third straight elimination game for Toronto, and the mindset of knowing it could be the last game of your season has so far been enough to result in efforts that has led to victories.

“That’s the positive. I think being down 3-1 we’ve played desperate hockey, we know what that feels like, we know how to start games,” said Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri. “This feeling really isn’t anything new for us over the course of the last few games. They got off to an early lead and we had to step it up. Now it’s really up for grabs.”

Related: NHL announces second round opening games

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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.