Noah Hanifin

NHL Return to Play: A look at the Western Conference matchups

[UPDATE – JULY 10: NHL announces full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

While a lot can change between now and actual, meaningful hockey happening, the NHL announced its return-to-play plans on Tuesday. That means we learned the 24 teams who will be potentially playing hockey later this summer, with 12 from the Western Conference and 12 from the East. We also learned about the seven teams who will have a long wait until next season, and how the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will be handled.

Most directly enticingly, we found out about eight Qualifying Round matchups if play is to resume in a few months. We also learned that the top four teams in each conference will play in round robin tournaments to determine seeding for the First Round.

For the Western Conference, the winners of each Qualifying Round will go on to face one of the Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Stars.

Now that we know the teams, let’s take an overview of the four Western Conference qualifying round matchups.

[MORE: A look at the Eastern Conference matchups]

(5) Oilers vs. (12) Blackhawks

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*

Regular season recap

The Oilers surged to the Pacific Division’s second spot on the strength of “The Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid Show.” A lot had to go right for that to happen, even beyond Draisaitl and McDavid dominating compared to their usual, lofty standards.

When it comes to judging the Blackhawks, it’s all about your expectations. If you were expecting the return of dynasty days, then sure, you’d be disappointed. Most have tempered such expectations, and with that in mind, the team at least found ways to scrap toward reasonable competitiveness. Sure, they can be a mess, but sometimes they snatched victory from the jaws of defensive defeat.

With a whopping 110 points, Draisaitl blazed by anyone else to win the Art Ross Trophy. No one else even crossed 100 points, as McDavid finished second in scoring with 97. Other Oilers didn’t provide much offense beyond Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (61 points), as Zack Kassian and Oscar Klefbom finished fourth on Edmonton with just 34.

The Blackhawks didn’t reach the same heights, but were similarly top-heavy. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews continue to run the show. Beyond them, Alex DeBrincat took a step back, but Dominik Kubalik emerged.

On paper, Chicago probably hopes to break even regarding special teams. Yes, both teams featured top-10 penalty kill units this season, but the Oilers boasted the most efficient power play in the NHL, while Chicago’s PP was almost the worst.

Even with Robin Lehner shipped away in a trade, the Blackhawks may hold a goaltending advantage. Corey Crawford finished 2019-20 on fire, while Edmonton’s options were merely average.

Season series

Blackhawks leads season series 2-1. Last meeting: Chicago won 4-3 on March 5.

Injured players who could return

Blackhawks: When Calvin de Haan underwent shoulder surgery in late December, it seemed to be season-ending. Now it’s not so clear. Concussions could be especially tricky to deal with in this climate, so we’ll see how Adam Boqvist comes along. One would think that Andrew Shaw and Brent Seabrook won’t be available, but who knows?

Oilers: Edmonton indicated that Mike Green and Joakim Nygard should both be ready for a return to play.

Storylines to Watch

Considering the gap between McDavid and Draisaitl vs. Kane and Toews, cynics might groan when things are framed as the battle between a dwindling dynamic duo and a rising one.

But … c’mon. It is fun to picture how those rising stars will try to learn new tricks from those old dogs. The truth is that Kane and especially Toews already “passed the torch,” yet this could be a lot of fun. Really, the (mostly) flawed rosters around both duos could make the battles more fun to watch.

I ranked this as the most exciting series of the Western Conference side, but click here to see if it got the overall nod.

Western Conference qualifying round matchups Predators Coyotes
(Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(6) Predators vs. (11) Coyotes

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*

Regular season recap

After stumbling for much of the season, the Predators were starting to get their wits about them entering the pandemic pause. On the other hand, the Coyotes seemed to be running out of gas, and rank among the teams lucky to still be in the dance.

Even before COVID-19 disrupted life and sports, the Predators experienced plenty of drama. It says a lot about the ups and downs of the Predators’ season that they a) fired Peter Laviolette during the season, b) hired John Hynes, who was also fired during 2019-20, and c) managed to finish in the old wild-card setup entering the pause. Phew.

If you’re asking me, you need to squint to see major Predators improvements, unless you really have a thing for coaches benching star players.

That goes for Laviolette to Hynes, and also improving on issues from 2018-19. Despite adding Matt Duchene and removing P.K. Subban, the power play remains a drag. New issues surfaced, too, with Pekka Rinne‘s play sagging to a worrisome degree.

Speaking of things staying mostly the same … hey, at least the Predators still have that defense.  Mattias Ekholm‘s useful, yet Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis stood out the most. Check out where Ellis and Josi rank on Evolving Hockey’s GAR chart for all skaters, not just defensemen:

Evolving Hockey GAR Ellis Panarin Pettersson Josivia Evolving Hockey

Personally, the feeling with the Predators is “they made all of those changes to end up, basically, in the same spot?” You could say similar things about the Coyotes. Despite bringing in Phil Kessel and then Taylor Hall, the Coyotes continue to live off of goaltending (and to a lesser extent, defense).

At least Arizona’s goalies have delivered enough to make that living survivable, if not easy. Darcy Kuemper continued to quietly rank among the league’s best, while Antti Raanta came through when Kuemper got hurt.

Season series

The Coyotes and Predators split their season series 1-1. Nashville won the last meeting 3-2 on Dec. 23.

Injured players who could return

Coyotes: One would expect Conor Garland to be over his knee injury. Arizona should get young defenseman Jakob Chychrun back, too.

Predators: The 2019-20 season presented the Predators with injury issues, but they were healing up nicely around the time of the pause. Dan Hamhuis should probably be healed up, though.

Storylines to Watch

When you look at the way these teams are put together, both the Predators and Coyotes made bold moves to step forward. Instead, they’ve basically stood in place.

Will either team be able to argue that the gambles eventually paid off once play resumes? Can Duchene justify his price tag? Can Phil Kessel regain his scoring touch? How much money will Taylor Hall lose or gain in free agency?

The Predators and Coyotes have a lot to prove, and a lot to lose.

Also, “Coach vs. Player” doesn’t really do much for me when the two say glowing things about each other, but Hynes did coach Hall during Hall’s Hart season so …

Western Conference qualifying round matchups Canucks Wild
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

(7) Canucks vs. (10) Wild

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*

Regular season recap

As different as their paths and outlooks have been, it’s fascinating how little space there ended up being between the Canucks (78 points, 69 games played) and Wild (77 in 69 GP).

The Canucks already boast some of the premium pieces the sort-of-rebuilding Wild should clamor for. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes look like stars now, let alone later. Their development buoyed Jim Benning’s gambles, from ones that were brilliant (J.T. Miller, costly or not) to not-so-much (Tyler Myers, mainly costly). Pettersson, a few other skaters, and an on-point Jacob Markstrom have made things work just enough.

By most underlying measures, the Wild were actually a pretty competent team in 2019-20. They played well enough, collectively, that Bruce Boudreau probably didn’t deserve to be fired. That’s just how it goes for coaches in the NHL, though, especially since Bill Guerin didn’t hire Boudreau. (Frankly, Jason Zucker wasn’t the problem either, but at least trading him seemed like a gesture toward rebuilding.)

Really, you could argue that Devan Dubnyk was as responsible as anyone for Boudreau getting fired. If the Wild played at about the level they did — including Kevin Fiala rising to something approaching a star level — Minnesota could be a fairly tough out.

They’ll need better goaltending, though, whether they hope Dubnyk can rebound, or they stick with Alex Stalock, who was increasingly grabbing starts.

Season series

Wild won two of the three games, although one of those victories came via a shootout. That aforementioned (Wild won 4-3 [SO]) happened during their most recent meeting on Feb. 19.

Injured players who could return

Canucks: It seems like Markstrom and Chris Tanev should probably be good to go from what seemed like minor, late-season injuries. The break could be beneficial for Micheal Ferland, who was dealing with concussion issues. Josh Leivo should be back.

Wild: Not much to speak of for Minnesota, as Eric Staal missed time for personal reasons. Staal spoke about that recently.

Storylines to Watch

Vancouver missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, and five of their last six. The Canucks also haven’t won a series since losing Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to the Bruins. As much as it sometimes feels like these youngsters are skipping to the front of line for Vancouver, Canucks fans must be getting antsy.

While it only seemed like the Wild were headed toward two consecutive seasons without postseason appearances, their larger decline extends further. Minnesota won two first-round series in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but otherwise haven’t seen much from the Zach PariseRyan Suter era. (Who, for all the negative talk around them, remain top contributors for the Wild.)

A Parise trade didn’t work out. Mikko Koivu did not get traded, whether the Wild wanted to or not. As badly as the Wild need a rebuild, this unexpected opportunity opens the door for a last hurrah.

So, will it be one more ride for the Wild, or a chance for the Canucks to take big steps toward an even bigger future?

Western Conference qualifying round matchups Jets Flames
(Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

(8) Flames vs. (9) Jets

Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*

Regular season recap

When considering the Flames’ 2019-20 season, don’t compare their work to 2018-19 alone. Unless you want to be sorely underwhelmed.

That’s because, frankly, multiple Flames put together career seasons they weren’t likely to replicate. You could argue that all of Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan might have played over their heads last season. Those players cooled off considerably — maybe extremely — and the Flames suffered as a result.

In a twist, that drop-off didn’t explain why Bill Peters got fired.

Even so, that group remains pretty good, especially with Matthew Tkachuk steadily improving (and thus becoming that much more annoying). Cam Talbot‘s also been a nice addition for the Flames, who are seemingly always looking for that goalie.

That goalie in Winnipeg ranks as far and away the main reason the Jets didn’t totally crash. Connor Hellebuyck absolutely saved Winnipeg’s season, as the Jets were absolutely dreadful on defense. As in: even worse than you’d expect after subtracting Dustin Byfuglien (voluntarily or not), Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers.

As leaky as the Jets were on defense, they still have the fuel for serious offensive firepower, as Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Patrik Laine remained productive in 2019-20.

Season series

The Jets took the season’s only meeting 3-1 in overtime on Oct. 26.

Injured players who could return

Flames: The timetable seems right for Travis Hamonic to return. Noah Hanifin had also been dealing with some concussion issues.

Jets: How serious were Bryan Little‘s issues? If they were season-threatening, maybe he could come back? If they are closer to career-threatening, then who knows? Perhaps we’ll learn more in the next few weeks.

Storylines to Watch

Last season, the Flames ranked first in the Western Conference, while the Jets managed 99 points. For all the disappointments in 2019-20, and even with some key omissions in mind, it’s not that difficult to imagine both teams putting something special together.

Two star-packed teams hoping to make the most of what is pretty close to a clean slate? That could be fun. Really, it could actually be the most exciting series for the Western Conference side if everything clicks.

Besides, Patrik Laine might say funny things, and Matthew Tkachuk has all that pent-up pandemic pest energy to release. (OK, that last part has me worried.)

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.

NBCSN’s Hockey Hour: Horton lifts Bruins over Habs in Game 7

This week’s Hockey Happy Hour on NBCSN will again feature memorable “on this date” games in NHL playoff history.

On the way to a Stanley Cup victory, the Bruins defeated the rival Canadiens in overtime by a score of 4-3. On this day nine years ago, the win marked the first time that a team won a seven game playoff series despite being held scoreless on the power play.

Mike Emrick and Darren Pang had the call from TD Garden in Boston, Mass.

As part of the week-long NBC Sports From the Vault presentation on NBCSN, Tuesday’s coverage will feature classic NHL matchups beginning at 7 p.m. ET. Throughout the evening, all-time greats such as Bobby Orr, Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Wayne Gretzky, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Steve Yzerman will be showcased in historic NHL regular-season, All-Star and Stanley Cup Final matchups.

You can watch a livestream of the game here.

Monday, April 27 on NBCSN
NHL Hat Trick Trivia hosted by P.K. Subban (Episode 3) – 5 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• Canadiens vs. Bruins (2011 Round 1, Game 7) – 5:30 p.m. ET (Live stream)

Tuesday, April 28 on NBCSN
The Great One vs. The Great Eight Showcase – 5 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• Penguins vs. Capitals (2016 Round 2, Game 1) – 6 p.m ET (Live stream)
• Bruins vs. Flyers (1974 Stanley Cup Final, Game 6) – 7 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• Penguins vs. Capitals (Dec. 11, 2006) – 9:30 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• 1991 NHL All-Star Game – 12 a.m. ET (Live stream)

Wednesday, April 29 on NBCSN
#HockeyAtHome: NHL Fathers and Sons – 5 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• Rangers vs. Senators (2017 Round 2, Game 2) – 5:30 p.m. ET (Live stream)

Thursday, April 30 on NBCSN
NHL Player Gaming Challenge – 5 p.m. ET (Live stream)
• Wild vs. Avalanche (2014 Round 1, Game 7) – 6 p.m. ET (Live stream)

Sunday, May 3 on NBC
• USA vs. Canada (2010 Olympics Men’s Gold Medal game) – 3 p.m. ET

NHL HAT TRICK TRIVIA HOSTED BY P.K. SUBBAN – MONDAY, 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Roberto Luongo will join the third episode of NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban. Hosted by the New Jersey Devils defenseman, the show features fans answering a trio of hockey trivia questions from their homes, along with appearances from NHL players and celebrities, for the chance to win NHL prizes. Additional guests on the episode include Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, actors Michael Keaton and Jay Baruchel as well as NHL referee Wes McCauley.

THE GREAT ONE VS. THE GREAT EIGHT SHOWCASE – TUESDAY, 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN
Wayne Gretzky faces off against Alex Ovechkin in an EA Sports NHL 20 series featuring themselves playing with the Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals, respectively. The virtual matchup raised over $40,000 for COVID-19 relief.

1991 NHL ALL-STAR GAME – TUESDAY, MIDNIGHT ET ON NBCSN
The 1991 edition of the NHL All-Star Game featured hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, former Red Wings center Steve Yzerman and Vincent Damphousse of the Maple Leafs, who recorded four goals in the contest. The matchup was held two days following the beginning of Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War, and the patriotic presentation of the national anthem at Chicago Stadium is still remembered to this day.

#HOCKEYATHOME: NHL FATHERS AND SONS – WEDNESDAY, 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN
NBCSN will present a 30-minute program about NHL fathers and sons at 5 p.m. ET. The three father and son relationships featured in the program are:

NHL PLAYER GAMING CHALLENGE – THURSDAY, 5 P.M. ET ON NBCSN
NBCSN will present the opening night of the NHL Player Gaming Challenge at 5 p.m. ET, featuring Calgary vs. Ottawa. The month-long initiative will pit NHL players from all 31 clubs facing off against each other in EA Sports NHL 20. The competition kicks off on Thursday with Matthew Tkachuk and Noah Hanifin representing the Flames against Brady Tkachuk of the Senators.

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.

PHT Decade in Review: Most significant trades in hockey

As 2019 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at the past decade. We’ll remember the best players and teams, most significant goals, and biggest transactions that have happened since 2010. Let us know your memories in the comments.

Best Hockey Trades

Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen

The Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets each had a glaring need and were able to help each other when Seth Jones and Ryan Johansen were traded for one another. From Columbus’ perspective, Johansen was not a favorite of coach John Tortorella and already had a lengthy contract dispute. Nashville had an abundance of talent on the blueline and needed to find a top line centerman. When a trade of this magnitude happens, one team usually regrets the move but, in this situation, both teams were left quite pleased.

Martin St. Louis for Ryan Callahan

It takes a lot of extenuating circumstances for two teams in the thick of a playoff race to trade their captains, but in 2014, the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning completed the transaction. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman created a dispute with Martin St. Louis when he left the future Hall-Of-Famer off Team Canada’s original roster for the Sochi Olympics. In return, St. Louis requested a trade and the Lightning ended up honoring the request. On the other side, Glen Sather wrapped up contract extensions with Henrik Lundqvist and Dan Girardi but struggled to find common ground with Callahan. Even though the Lightning had very little leverage in the negotiations, Yzerman still found a way to pry two first-round picks from New York in the process. The Rangers went on to lose in the 2014 Cup Final and fell in the 2015 Conference Finals to the Lightning in a seven-game series. Neither team won a championship because of this move, but both clubs settled a problem with this transaction.

Mike Richards and Jeff Carter end up in Los Angeles, Flyers acquire Wayne Simmonds, Bradyen Schenn and Jakub Voracek

A few maneuvers were significant when Los Angeles won two Stanley Cups early in the decade, but the Kings paid a steep price to acquire Mike Richards in June 2011. Coincidentally, another big piece, Jeff Carter, was traded that day to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was eventually sent to Los Angeles at the 2012 trade deadline where he became a key cog for the Kings. Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown were already in place, but the acquisition of Richards and Carter were a huge reason why Los Angeles was very successful in the first half of the decade.

On the flip side, the Flyers were looking to change the culture around the club that offseason and landed Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn in the Richards deal, while acquiring Jakub Voracek in the Carter trade. Philadelphia did not win a Stanley Cup, but they were not ripped off in either deal when trading legitimate NHL stars.

Flames send Dougie Hamilton to the Hurricanes in five-player trade

It was a blockbuster trade in June of 2018 that helped both the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames. Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox were sent to Carolina in exchange for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. If one was to define a hockey trade, this would be a great place to start.

One sided trades

Bruins ship Tyler Seguin to Dallas

There are always overreactions after losing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but the way the Boston Bruins reacted to losing the 2013 Stanley Cup Final was clearly a mistake. The Bruins front office decided to trade Tyler Seguin, a star in the making, to the Dallas Stars for Loui Eriksson and several other pieces. The Bruins did not make matters worse by handing Eriksson a lucrative contract extension in the summer of 2016, but they did lose a player that averaged 77 points per season since the trade.

Capitals send Filip Forsberg to Nashville for Martin Erat

George McPhee is most likely still having nightmares about this transaction.

Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher

This deal is easy to judge knowing how each player performed since the trade. However, in April of 2013 the move did make some sense for both teams. The Ottawa Senators had a crowded crease with Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner and Bishop while Conacher was off to a strong start with the Tampa Bay Lightning, recording 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in the first 35 games of the season. The undersized forward instantly became the Senators’ leading scorer upon his arrival but would never become the lethal scorer Ottawa hoped for. On the other hand, Bishop has become a well-rounded NHL goaltender.

Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton

There probably could be a category for several of the moves Peter Chiarelli made but trading two premium draft picks for Griffin Reinhart is at the top of the list. It doesn’t help when one of those picks turned into Mathew Barzal, but the Oilers general manager hoped Reinhart would solve Edmonton’s defensive issues. Former Islanders general manager Garth Snow is probably still confused how he pulled this one off.

Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson

Hall helped the New Jersey Devils return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and captured the 2018 Hart trophy, while Edmonton picked up a middle-pairing defenseman.

Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard

Why the Ottawa Senators were interested in trading a young center with Zibanejad’s potential is still a bit mind-boggling. The Swedish forward has turned into one of the more underrated centers in the NHL while Brassard has bounced around the NHL the past couple of seasons.

Brent Burns to the Sharks

The Minnesota Wild received Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round draft pick, but Burns has been one of the most dynamic defensemen in the entire NHL throughout the decade. There are very few assets that could have lived up to the value Burns has provided on the ice.

Franchise Altering Maneuvers

P.K. Subban for Shea Weber

For those who understand the salary cap recapture penalties, the Nashville Predators took a significant gamble when sending Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban. If Weber were to retire before his deal runs out, they will be forced to operate with a lot of dead money on their books.

Subban did help the Predators reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 but has since been shipped off to the New Jersey Devils.

Blues acquire Ryan O'Reilly

The 2019 Conn Smythe winner was an integral member of the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup run last season. Doug Armstrong gave up a lot at the time including a top prospect, two premium picks and two roster players, but the Buffalo Sabres miscalculated in their evaluation. Without the the O’Reilly acquisition, the song ‘Gloria’ is probably not a huge hit in the St. Louis area.

Penguins acquire Phil Kessel

It wasn’t always a smooth ride in Pittsburgh, but Kessel averaged 75 points per season and played a major part in back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships.

TJ Oshie to the Capitals

The Washington Capitals have been one of the most successful teams over the last decade but didn’t get over the hump until the spring of 2018. T.J. Oshie was not the main piece during the championship run, but he has provided secondary scoring and strong two-way play since his acquisition in the summer of 2015.

MORE PHT DECADE IN REVIEW FUN:
• Top NHL players in fantasy hockey
• Most significant goals
• Best players of the decade
• Favorite goals, best/worst jerseys
Best NHL teams of the decade

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Tkachuk bridge deal gives Flames three-year window

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The Calgary Flames likely breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday when they signed Matthew Tkachuk to a three-year deal with a $7 million AAV.

Once you get past the inevitable envy of the Lightning signing Brayden Point for even less, this is a nice deal for Tkachuk and the Flames.

Granted, it does make things pretty snug for the Flames, as they may even need to go with 22 instead of 23 roster spots covered, unless GM Brad Treliving does some juggling:

Frankly, the most interesting questions come from the longer term than the short. To be specific, it looks like the Flames’ clearest window to compete for a Stanley Cup happens over the three seasons of Tkachuk’s bridge deal, from 2019-20 through 2021-22.

Three crucial contracts are set to expire after 2021-22.

  • Tkachuk, 21, will see that $7M “bridge” deal end.

It will be intriguing to see how that plays out. Following the lead of other key RFAs, Tkachuk’s deal is structured in a way that he could accept an expensive (possibly approximately $9M) qualifying offer to play out 2022-23 before he’d be eligible to become a UFA.

Naturally, that doesn’t guarantee it would happen that way, as the Flames can sign him to an extension as early as the summer of 2021. Tkachuk’s leverage is considerable thanks to this deal, however, and Calgary must brace for an expensive haul thanks to another huge name looming …

  • Johnny Gaudreau, 26, sees his bargain $6.75M expire after 2021-22 as well.

Gaudreau was a bargain at that rate when he signed, and has only cemented his status as a hyper-bargain as he continues his ascent among the most prolific playmakers in the sport. To put things mildly, Gaudreau will expect (and, frankly, deserve) a big raise starting in 2022-23.

  • Mark Giordano, 35, will see his Gaudreau-matching $6.75M cap hit end.

Giordano’s aged miraculously, winning his first Norris Trophy last season. We’ve seen some great defensemen enter their twilight years remaining at a high level, so there’s a decent chance that the Flames won’t regret Giordano’s remaining years.

That said, sometimes the aging curve hits hard and fast, and Giordano’s contract expiring could be a blessing by the end of 2021-22. Would it be enough to spread that $6.75M between Tkachuk and Gaudreau and call it a day? Maybe not, but the pieces might just fall together for that to absorb most of the damage.

Even more term

Naturally, there are questions beyond the big three, although Calgary’s done well to avoid many albatross deals.

Sean Monahan (24, $6.375M) only has one more year on his contract than the big three (ending after 2022-23), while Mikael Backlund (30, $5.35M), Elias Lindholm (24, $4.85M), and Noah Hanifin (22, $4.95M) see their deals expire after 2023-24.

They did exchange the James Neal albatross for Milan Lucic (31, $5.25M [after salary retention] through 2022-23) during this offseason, though.

It will be interesting to see if Treliving might have an escape route in mind with Lucic.

Via Cap Friendly, the 2019-20 season is the last year where his actual salary (in the latest case, $6M) exceeds his $5.25M cap hit. From 2020-21 and on, Lucic’s cost reads out as:

2020-21: $3M in bonuses, $1M in base salary
2021-22: $2.5M bonus, $2.5M base
2022-23: $3M bonus, $1M base

A budget-challenged team could look at Lucic’s cap hit/salary disparity as an asset, especially if Calgary coughed up some futures for some cap bribery. Such a deal could be especially sensible for a cheaper team after the Flames paid Lucic’s bonuses heading into 2020-21 or 2022-23. Lucic has clauses, so it wouldn’t be a guaranteed smooth process, but that Neal trade is more complex if you factor in the Flames possibly wiggling out of Lucic’s cap hit in the future.

Goalie, young player, and core questions

Other matters will need to be settled. They don’t have much certainty in net with Cam Talbot seeming to be a stopgap and David Rittich to be determined as a starter or even a platoon option, but the good news is that they’re not boxed into a bad and/or expensive option, either. Beyond Giordano and Hanifin, the Flames’ other most prominent defensemen are entering contract years.

***

Ultimately, you can add Tkachuk’s bridge deal to a nice list of Flames’ discounts. Yet, like their best bargain with Gaudreau, it will only last so long. The Flames need to make it count.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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.

It’s Carolina Hurricanes Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes.

2018-19
46-29-7, 99 points (4th in Metropolitan Division, 7th in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in the Eastern Conference Final in four games against Boston

IN
James Reimer
Erik Haula
Ryan Dzingel
Gustav Forsling
Anton Forsberg

OUT
Scott Darling
Curtis McElhinney
Calvin de Haan
Adam Fox
Nicolas Roy
Aleksi Saarela

RE-SIGNED
Sebastian Aho
Petr Mrazek
Brock McGinn
Haydn Fleury

2018-19 Season Summary

The past 18 months or so have been a bit of a whirlwind for the Carolina Hurricanes, who’ve gone about a massive shakeup from the top down.

A new owner (Tom Dundon), a new general manager (Don Waddell), a new head coach (Rod Brind’Amour) began the process early last year of re-vamping a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009.

By the time summer rolled around, it didn’t look promising that they’d break out of that funk during the coming season.

[MORE: X-factor: owner Tom Dundon | Three Questions | Hurricanes under pressure]

Losing names such as Cam Ward, Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin and Jeff Skinner during the offseason didn’t inspire much confidence that the Hurricanes could reverse their playoff misfortunes.

Even moving up from 11th to second in the 2018 NHL Draft (taking Andrei Svechnikov with the pick) wasn’t supposed to put them over the playoff line, nevermind into the Eastern Conference Final.

Then again, not every team is ‘bunch of jerks.’

And so despite Don Cherry’s best efforts to get under their skin, and flying in the face of expectations that didn’t offer much hope of closing a 14-point gap from the previous year, the Hurricanes turned in one of the more exciting seasons and a deep playoff run no one really expected.

Goaltending certainly helped their cause. The team got a solid 1-2 punch in the crease from Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, the latter who was picked up on the eve of the season from the waiver wire — and a move that would play a pivotal role when Mrazek got injured in November (and then again in the playoffs.)

An in-season trade that brought in Nino Niederreiter at the expense of Victor Rask was a shrewd move that immediately paid off and the Hurricanes took the fight down the stretch and won, claiming a seventh-place finish and a date with the Washington Captials in Round 1.

You’d have forgiven the Hurricanes for crashing out after a hard-fought run-in. Instead, the team rallied around one another, used that playoff-style hockey they played in the final month to their advantage and eeked out a win against the defending Stanley Cup champs in seven games.

Those gale-force winds only intensified in Round 2, with the Hurricanes pulling off another shocking upset, this time in emphatic fashion with a 4-0 series win against the defensive-minded New York Islanders.

It’s only when the storm reached Boston did the winds fade into a near-still breeze. The Hurricanes forced their way into the Eastern Conference Final, only to be shown the door after four games.

On one hand, it was a disappointing end to a rollercoaster ride. On the other, it was a massive period of growth that Carolina could take into the offseason as they looked for continued growth.

And they’ve done so with the addition of Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel, who should provide a goal-scoring boost to a team in the middle of the pack in that department.

Mrazek will have to shoulder most of the load this season with McElhinney’s departure to Tampa Bay.

The Montreal Canadiens helped sort out Sebastian Aho’s contract with the first offer sheet since 2013. Other than the anxiety that brought, it’s been a good offseason for the Hurricanes, who will look to make it consecutive seasons in the playoffs for the first time in 21 years.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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