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Long-term extension would make sense for Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson

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The Arizona Coyotes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are in talks about a possible eight-year contract extension that would carry a cap hit of a bit more than $8 million per season, according to Craig Morgan of ArizonaSports.com.

Do note that, whether a deal is actually close to be agreed upon or the situation is fluid, an extension wouldn’t become official until July, when “OEL” is first eligible for such a contract. (He’ll enter the final year of his current deal in 2018-19).

So, things could fall apart between now and then.

Still, such an extension could make a lot of sense for both the Swedish defenseman and the fledgling Coyotes. Let’s dive in under the assumption that an eight-year deal would cost (slightly?) more than $64M, which is essentially the extension Brent Burns signed with the San Jose Sharks in November 2016.

Peace of mind (and maybe some control?) for OEL

Ekman-Larsson (26, turning 27 on July 17) is currently on a deal with a $5.5M cap hit and $7M salary heading into 2018-19. OEL’s contract lacks a no-trade or no-movement clause, so if negotiations fell through, he could find himself in a less-than-desirable situation as a “rental.”

By signing a deal in that Burns range, he’d carry one of the biggest cap hits of any NHL defenseman, at least as of this writing (trailing P.K. Subban, but slightly more than Burns, Shea Weber, and Aaron Ekblad). Of course, as of this writing is the key phrase, but we’ll get to that in the Coyotes’ section.

OEL opting to sign that contract brings plenty of benefits:

  • Not needing to answer a bunch of questions about his contract year.
  • Avoiding the risk of an injury derailing/lowering his prospects of getting a new deal. Eight years is the maximum term, so OEL would land the most security possible, covering the next nine years of his career.
  • Speaking of years, the Coyotes are the only team that could sign him for eight. This could be advantageous for Ekman-Larsson even if things actually turned sour with Arizona, especially if he …
  • Possibly gets a no-trade or no-movement clause, gaining more say in his future, even if he loses the ultimate freedom of exploring the free agent market.

Yes, there’s a lot to like from OEL’s standpoint. So, what about the Coyotes?

Getting ahead of the gold rush for defensemen

Now, it’s worth noting that some key moments for soon-to-be-richer defensemen could happen in late June by way of trades at or around the 2018 NHL Draft on June 22. For all we know, Erik Karlsson could be traded from Ottawa, possibly accelerating his own schedule to sign an extension.

Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson are far from the only prominent defensemen who will enter 2018-19 as contract years (assuming they don’t sign extensions themselves). Karlsson and Drew Doughty aren’t shy about possibly driving up their own prices, maybe together. Ryan McDonagh isn’t setting the world on fire with the Lightning, but the market could still send piles of money his way consider the demand for defensemen and the scant supply of capable ones. Ryan Ellis is another defenseman worth watching if he rides things out with Nashville next season.

From OEL’s perspective, he’d avoid the threat of a potential buyers’ market. The Coyotes, on the other hand, might look at the very real potential for Doughty and Karlsson to command deals at or above Jack Eichel‘s extension, thus making $8M a reasonable, risk-reducing price.

Question of worth

Now, it’s fair to wonder if OEL would actually be worth $8M per season. Ekman-Larsson’s mostly been a strong possession player on a bad team, and his 85 goals since 2013-14 ranks second among defensemen. Still, he’s only passed the 50-point plateau once (2015-16), so he hasn’t necessarily had that “huge” year one might demand from a player seeking that big payday. (None of this is to say that he isn’t very good; instead, it’s just a reminder that big cash inspires big-time nitpicking.)

It’s tough to imagine him not being worth it for the Coyotes, though, so the debate feels a bit moot. Perhaps they’d be on firmer ground to grind something out if they won the draft lottery, but the fifth pick likely means adding another nice piece rather than a revolutionary one as Rasmus Dahlin is hyped to possibly be.

The Coyotes showed that they wanted to make the next step by trading for Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, and Niklas Hjalmarsson last summer. While the results weren’t quite what they hoped for in 2017-18, would they really want to take a step back by letting their best defenseman/player* go after next season?

Yes, with just about any big extension or contract, there are risks to consider, especially in a sport where a career-derailing injury could always be one hard collision away. It’s also plausible that Ekman-Larsson might buckle under the pressure of such a contract. Being labeled an “albatross” can really mess with an athlete’s head, even if they don’t get the reference.

All things considered, if the Coyotes and OEL agree to a deal along the lines of what Morgan reports, it would probably rank as an “everyone wins” situation.

Bonus points if Ekman-Larsson can actually, you know, help the Coyotes start winning.

* – Hey, for all we know, Clayton Keller could become “The Guy” in Arizona by next season.

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Goalie interference to be discussed at GM meetings; How’s Ovechkin’s sheep?

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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.

• Check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Flyers and Penguins. (Top)

• Some good news here, as goalie interference will be brought up at this month’s GM meetings in Florida. The league has to get this figured out ASAP. (Toronto Star)

Marcus Johansson jumped on the ice for the first time since suffering a concussion in January. (NJ.com)

• Former Pens head coach Dan Bylsma doesn’t believe Sidney Crosby isn’t the most skilled player in the world, but also mentioned that there’s no player smarter than Sid. (ESPN)

• Since the start of last season, no player has found the back of the net more often than Jets forward Patrik Laine. What’s his secret? (Sporting News)

Mathew Barzal‘s path to the Calder Trophy got a lot easier now that Brock Boeser is out, but that doesn’t make the Islanders forward’s season any less historic or impressive. (Gotham SN)

• The sheep Alex Ovechkin got for his 30th birthday is alive and well. She even has a family now. (Washington Post)

• It’s time for NHL players to stop opening the door to the benches during the run of play. Obviously, that would have prevented Boeser from suffering a serious injury. (Hockey Wilderness)

• Like the New England Patriots, the Bruins have been forced to operate with a “next man up” mentality of late. Testing the depth of their squad probably isn’t a bad thing. (Bruins Daily)

• The Dallas Stars could benefit from being a Wild Card team instead of finishing in the top three in the Central Division. (Dallas Morning News)

• As you’d imagine, the Edmonton Oilers are much worse when Connor McDavid isn’t on the ice. They have to get better when their captain is on the bench. (Oilers Nation)

Mike Smith‘s unexpected appearance at Flames practice gave his teammates an emotional boost. (Calgary Herald)

• Most people think of Tom Wilson as nothing more than a goon, but he’s been a key piece for the Capitals this season. (Japers’ Rink)

• Agent Kevin Epp often feels like he holds the keys to the Coyotes’ kingdom because he represents Antti Raanta, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. (Arizona Sports 98.7 FM)

• How should fans of teams that won’t make the playoffs cope with the rest of the season? (Spector’s Hockey)

• Does Phil Kessel really love hot dogs? His sister, Amanda, sets the record straight:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

 

Trade: Could Duclair be Blackhawks’ next great find?

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A day after the Chicago Blackhawks made Brent Seabrook a $6.875 million healthy scratch, GM Stan Bowman made a move that reminded the hockey world that he’s still one of the NHL’s nimblest minds.

The fact that he made a promising move with the Arizona Coyotes after a Connor MurphyNiklas Hjalmarsson trade that didn’t work out very well (for either side, really) only adds icing to the cake for Blackhawks fans.

Here are the official terms:

Blackhawks receive: Anthony Duclair and Adam Clendening.

Coyotes get: Richard Panik and Laurent Dauphin.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports that no salary was retained in the trade.

The biggest names here are Duclair and Panik. With LeBrun reporting that no salary was retained in the deal, it seems like it’s either a solid win or a significant win for the Blackhawks; that all depends upon how Duclair handles the change of scenery he requested.

Objectively, Duclair is younger (22) and cheaper than Panik (26). Panik’s cap hit is $2.8 million through 2018-19, while Duclair is a pending RFA with a $1.2M cap hit. The negative side is that Duclair could play exceptionally well and drive up his price, but the struggling Blackhawks would gladly deal with that “problem,” much like they were generally happy to deal with Artemi Panarin being so darn effective.

At the moment, Duclair’s production is more Panik-like than Panarin-like, mind you. There’s actually little separating Duclair’s numbers (15 points in 33 games) from those of Panik (16 points in 37 games).

Duclair’s potential, however, is what makes him very intriguing, especially for a Blackhawks team that’s found more than a few diamonds in the rough over the years.

If you’re a Blackhawks fan who’s already pleased with some elements of the deal, Sportsnet’s Jonathan Willis might make you downright giddy, as he pegged Duclair as the possible hidden gem of the trade market just yesterday:

Duclair looks pretty good at first blush. Last season, which was a mammoth disappointment, he still outperformed the team average. Over 172 games with one of the league’s worst teams, Duclair has actually been on the ice for more goals for than against, which is difficult to do. It’s a massive achievement: Arizona’s goal differential improves by almost a full goal for every hour Duclair plays versus every hour he doesn’t.

While his 2016-17 season was brutal at times, you don’t have to dig into fancy stats to find the only reasons to be excited. Duclair scored 20 goals in 2015-16, his first full season in the NHL, after being involved in the Keith Yandle Rangers trade. His 19-percent shooting percentage indicates there was some luck there, but he was very young, and still is at 22.

Now, the Blackhawks have some problems, and Duclair isn’t the defenseman they likely need the most. There’s also a chance that he’d provide the same production as Panik, as it’s worth doubling back that they’re near equals in at least the simplest stats right now.

Still, there’s an undeniable “nature versus nurture” element to this that could make it very exciting to see how a seemingly more skilled, inarguably younger player might do with more talented people around him. Not to mention a change of pace.

And, hey, at minimum he saves cash-strapped Chicago some money.

You might say Bowman’s back, although he’s been doing this for years.

Also:

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.

Corey Crawford has become Chicago’s most important player

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The big news out of the Chicago Blackhawks this past week was the announcement that starting goaltender Corey Crawford has been placed on injured reserve, and that there is currently no timeline for his return to the lineup.

If he has to miss an extended period of time it could be a damaging blow to a team at a position where it really can not afford one. If there is one player this Blackhawks team can least afford to lose, Crawford is probably the one.

Prior to his injury Crawford had been having an outstanding season for the Blackhawks and owned a .930 save percentage that is fifth best in the league. That performance has been huge for a Blackhawks team that has its share of flaws, especially when it comes to its defense.

The Blackhawks are allowing 34 shots on goal per game this season, the third highest total in the league and it continues a trend from recent seasons that has seen the team go from being one of the absolute best shot suppression teams in the league to one of the absolute worst. Typically, that has not been a great recipe for success in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins showed last season that it is possible to win giving up that sort of shot volume, but onlly if a team has scoring depth and great goaltending to cover it up.

With Crawford in net the Blackhawks have been getting great goaltending. That has allowed them to stay in the top-five in goals against despite bleeding shots and shot attempts against.

So just how much has Crawford been saving the Blackhawks this season?

The difference between a .914 save percentage (which would still be above the league average this season) and the .930 mark on the same number of shots that Crawford has faced so far this season would have been an additional 10 goals against at this point. That may not seem like a lot right now, but that is only through 20 games. Those goals against quickly add up, and given a normal workload (think 60 games) that could be an additional 30 goals against over the course of a season.

That is a lot, and it could swing a season for a team that is currently sitting on the playoff bubble in the Western Conference.

What really hurts the Blackhawks this season is they don’t really have a proven backup that can step up in Crawford’s absence. At least not one that we know of yet. In recent years Scott Darling had proven to be one of the top backup goaltenders in the NHL and was more than capable of filling in for Crawford when he was injured or just simply needed a break or hit a slump. But Darling was traded over the summer to the Carolina Hurricanes to become their starter, turning the backup job over to Anton Forsberg.

In just six appearances this season Forsberg has already allowed 18 goals on just 187 shots and has managed only an .889 save percentage in his career.

The Blackhawks have won just one of his five starts so far this season.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks they don’t expect Crawford’s injury to be anything long-term.

They better hope that turns out to be the case.

When the Blackhawks were at the height of their power between 2010 and 2013 the rest of the team was so stacked that they didn’t really need elite goaltending to win.

Antti Niemi was solid in 2010, but not irreplaceable. That was proven the following offseason when they walked away from his arbitration ruling and allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent (they decided re-signing Niklas Hjalmarsson was far more vital to their success).

The same was mostly true for Crawford during their 2013 championship run. They had four dominant scoring lines and a defense that had four horses all in the prime of their careers that could shut down any offense. But the salary cap has ripped apart a lot of that forward depth while the defense is not what it used to be.

Players like Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell are gone, Brent Seabrook is a shell of his former self, and the rest of the unit outside of Duncan Keith is mostly a patchwork group of young players still finding their way and veterans signed on the cheap.

They still have forwards up front that can score, but their ability to prevent goals has shifted from having dominant defense to a huge reliance on their goaltender.

For years Crawford was the forgotten player among Chicago’s core, constantly getting overlooked behind Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Keith and Seabrook.

Now he might be the most important part of it.

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.

Let’s daydream about Doughty, Karlsson as free agents

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As much as people (*raises hand*) complain about the NHL lagging behind the NBA when it comes to blockbuster trades, it also seems like the league could use a real boost when it comes to free agency.

Blame it on the dangers of the game inspiring players to value long-term security over getting every last buck, team-friendly RFA quirks, or any number of factors, but this league rarely sees true star players hit the open market. Seriously, think about it; when’s the last time a true gamebreaker actually shopped his services? Would you count Brad Richards? Was it really as long ago as that Ilya Kovalchuk oddness?

(Sorry, Kevin Shattenkirk, I like you more than most, but you don’t count.)

With that in mind, it’s dangerous to look two years ahead and drool over the pool of potential, splashy UFA defensemen (see this Cap Friendly list as an example). That said, it’s also fun: imagine your team landing Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Ryan McDonagh, or even Ryan Ellis/Anton Stralman/Niklas Hjalmarsson.

It’s such a fun thought that even Doughty is getting in on the speculation, as he discussed in this fascinating interview with Craig Custance of The Athletic (sub required):

“I know I’m going to talk to Karlsson back and forth, kind of see what money he’s looking for. I’ll kind of look at what money I’m looking for,” Doughty said. “I don’t know if he’s going to re-sign with Ottawa, I don’t know if I’ll re-sign with L.A. You just never know what’s going to happen.”

In case you’re wondering, yes, Doughty teased the idea of playing for the Maple Leafs once again. Is cheeky the right word, or is he merely candid?

Note: Doughty also said the right thing in claiming Los Angeles was his first choice, though.

Maybe the most delightful line came when Doughty said that he – along with Karlsson – might use P.K. Subban‘s contract as something of a measuring stick. Note that the Canadiens signed Subban for eight years at a $9 million cap hit, a deal that’s now owned by the Predators.

Really, you can’t blame Karlsson and Doughty for wanting that sort of cap hit, especially when you consider how sorely they’re being paid under their true market value.

Doughty signed his current deal in 2011, and for all the sass the Kings take for bad contracts, he’s been carrying just a $7M cap hit. Karlsson’s incredible bargain is actually at $6.5M, signed back in 2012. For a penny-pinching team like the Senators, those savings have been absolutely essential. Those deals also rank among the most enviable steals in all the league (especially once you throw out cheats like rookie contracts with artificial ceilings).

The fascinating thing about both Karlsson and Doughty is that, theoretically, it’s plausible that both might actually test the market. Many of these thoughts could also apply to OEL; for all we know, he may be closer to their levels by the end of 2018-19.

Not just about what Doughty wants with L.A.

As a fan of good hockey, it’s been delightful to see the Kings rebound, mostly because they’ve done so by modernizing the way they play. You have to think that Doughty’s having more fun, himself.

The #Kings debating who will cover #ErikKarlsson in overtime is everything 😂😂

A post shared by TSN (@tsn_official) on

The Kings are in a better position to compete now, and it’s conceivable that their window might extend through 2018-19.

It’s not as easy to say what lies ahead in 2019-20 and beyond. Consider that Doughty turns 28 on Dec. 8; if he wants a long-term contract, it might be a bad situation for an L.A. franchise that might want to pivot toward a rebuild after taking another swing or two at a Stanley Cup.

Really, GM Rob Blake merely needs to look to San Jose if he wants a cautionary tale and doesn’t want to think about the mess he inherited. We all love Brent Burns, but his age and contract look as scraggly as his beard right now.

So, as painful as it might be, Doughty leaving town might actually be what’s best for both the player and the team. And it certainly would be fun for dorks like us, who love the drama of a free agent frenzy.

Note to Drew: even if the Maple Leafs are a slam-dunk, please play things up by at least pretending to field multiple offers. Hey, you’d get some steak/sushi dinners out of the deal and entertain us in the process. Pretty much everyone wins.

The cost of Karlsson

There are parallels with Karlsson’s situation, too, including him turning 28 soon (in his case, May).

Ottawa is incredibly dependent upon the otherworldly Swede, probably more than even Doughty, who’s immensely important to the Kings as well. That said, the Senators are a budget team right now, with open questions about ownership.

As much as GM Pierre Dorion wanted Matt Duchene for his speed and higher-end skill compared to Kyle Turris, there was also cost certainty to consider. Ottawa may decide that they’re simply not in a position to contend in the twilight of Karlsson’s prime, particularly if he’s getting paid *close* to what he’s actually worth.

For those who sometimes cringe at the Senators’ frequently bland style of play under Guy Boucher, it’s tantalizing to picture Karlsson serving as the catalyst to a high-powered, all-out-attacking offense.

***

It’s perfectly plausible that these defensemen will stick with their teams. Especially with Ottawa, Karlsson is the type of guy who’s so good he can help management avoid being, you know, fired. That has to weigh heavily on such thought processes.

There’s also the likely scenario where the Kings and/or Sens would realize they needed to part ways with their stud defensemen, leading to a sign-and-trade situation that saps some of the drama.

Still, hockey fans can dream, and compared to thoughts of Steven Stamkos dancing like sugar plums in your head, these visions might actually end up with real moves.

Hey, we can dream.

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.