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Hellebuyck turns career year into $37 million extension with Jets

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The Winnipeg Jets to-do list got a little shorter on Thursday.

The Jets locked up their goaltending future, signing Vezina runner-up Connor Hellebuyck to a six-year, $37 million contract.

Hellebuyck had a breakout season in 2017-18, posting 44 wins to set a new franchise record for the Jets (and a new record for American-born goalies) in a single season. He also posted franchise marks in shutouts with six and save percentage with a .925, as he seamlessly turned into one of the league’s premier netminders.

And now he’s getting paid like one.

Hellebuyck becomes the sixth highest paid goaltender in the NHL, behind Carey Price ($10.5 million AAV), Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million AAV), Sergei Bobrovsky ($7.425 million AAV) Tuukka Rask  ($7 million AAV) and Pekka Rinne ($7 million AAV). Hellebuyck’s contract comparables include Braden Holtby, Frederik Anderson and Semyon Varlamov.

The deal means the Jets will avoid going to arbitration with Hellebuyck, who was a restricted free agent.

The move also means that that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has one less RFA to sign in an offseason rife with talented players needing raises. CapFriendly has the Jets sitting with $20.6 million in cap space, with a couple of bigger ticket items to sort out soon.

Cheveldayoff will now turn his attention to fellow RFAs in Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, the team’s top, and one of the NHL’s best shutdown pairings. Trouba is looking for a long-term deal while the Jets will likely be able to bridge Morrissey. The Jets also have Brandon Tanev, Adam Lowry and Marko Dano to sign after the trip filed for arbitration.

Winnipeg will also be looking to extend 44-goal man Patrik Laine, who is likely to come close to double digits in AAV, if not exceed them.

Among starting goalies this season, Hellebuyck showed very well, posting an xSv% of 92.92%, good for fifth in the NHL with a minimum of 1,500 minutes played.

Hellebuyck made huge strides in his game after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign. Hooking up with Adam Francilia at the NET360 camp in British Columbia, Hellebuyck appeared to re-invent himself and the results were immediate as he erased many of the doubts people had of him coming into the year.

The Michigan native was instrumental in leading the Jets to the Western Conference Final for the first time in franchise history, and Hellebuyck was also named to the NHL All-Star game.

The Jets will enter the 2018-19 season with Laurent Brossoit handling backup duties after the team traded Steve Mason to the Montreal Canadiens as a part of a salary dump. The Jets signed Mason last offseason to a two-year, $8.2 million deal after Hellebuyck’s rough season previous, but he quickly became expendable because of Hellebuyck’s play and myriad injuries that plagued Mason throughout last season.

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

Goaltending will once again make or break the Hurricanes season

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So far this offseason is taking shape the same way as the previous four or five for the Carolina Hurricanes

There is the yearly talk that forward Jeff Skinner is on the verge of being traded without — to this point — actually being traded.

We have also now reached the point of the summer where we look at the roster, perhaps after some kind of a trade, free agent signing, or draft pick (in this case the selection of Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 overall pick along with the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton from the Calgary Flames), and try to convince ourselves that this is going to be the season where the Hurricanes put it all together and are good again … if only they can just get some decent goaltending. 

As much as it all sounds like a broken record, there is a lot of truth to that statement.

[Related: Beyond Karlsson: Five Players Who Could Be Traded This Summer]

Over the past four years the Hurricanes have allowed fewer shots on goal than every team in the NHL with the exception of the Los Angeles Kings. Despite they rank 20th in terms of goals against, a shocking disparity when you look at the rest of the league. You can talk about shot quality and scoring chances, but teams that are so strong when it comes to shot suppression usually — usually! — fare well when it comes to preventing goals. Teams that are bad at shot suppression are usually bad at giving up goals. It is not exactly rocket science here.

The biggest part of scoring a goal in the NHL is actually getting the puck on net. The more it happens, the more are going to end up in the net. The fewer you get on net, the fewer you in the net.

Just look at the top-10 and bottom-10 teams in terms of giving up shots on goal over the past four seasons and where they also rank in goals against.

The Hurricanes are the only team in the top-seven in terms of shots allowed that ranks lower than ninth in goals against during that stretch. The only other two outliers in the top-10 (Calgary and Dallas) are two other teams that have well documented issues finding consistent goaltending.

The only outliers on the right side are, really, the New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist masks a lot of flaws) and Florida Panthers (Roberto Luongo masks some flaws, too). Maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets, too (they have a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in their net).

With the additions of Hamilton and Calvin de Haan in free agency that defense is going to be just as strong, if not better, than it has been the past few years, and that hat will still be true whether or not they trade Justin Faulk.

The issue, again, is going to be whether or not they have anybody in net that can give them even average play in net.

For years it was Cam Ward that had a stranglehold on the position, and for the better part of the past six or seven years was one of the least productive goalie in the league. At different times they have brought in successful backups to perhaps push Ward and maybe even take the job away from him and perhaps solidify the position, including the likes of Anton Khudobin and Eddie Lack. None of them succeeded.

The latest attempt came last offseason when they traded a third-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Scott Darling and then immediately signed him to a four-year, $16 million contract extension.

Year one of the Darling era was … well … more of the same in the Carolina net as Darling’s .888 save percentage was 32nd out of 32 goalies to appear in at least 40 games. It was also one of the 10 worst performances over the past 20 years (again among goalies that played in at least 40 games). It had to be a large disappointment for the Hurricanes, not only because the investment they made did not produce immediate results, but also because Darling had been really good in Chicago as Corey Crawford‘s backup. Then as soon as they get him in Carolina everything completely fell apart in his first attempt at being a regular starter (or at least as a semi-regular starter).

Despite that tough debut the Hurricanes seem willing to stick with him and give him another shot, especially after letting Ward go in free agency and only signing Petr Mrazek (who was, to say the least, not good for the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers this past season) to push him for playing time.

The net, it seems, still belongs to Darling.

His attempt at bouncing back — as well as everything that led to his down year in 2017-18 — was the subject of an in-depth article this week by Luke DeCock at the News & Observer where he details Darling’s work to improve his physical conditioning and attempt to show up at camp in better shape than he did a year ago. Given the season Darling had a year ago, it certainly can not hurt.

If you are a Hurricanes fan there are a couple of things that should give you cause for optimism even after a decade of the same story over and over again.

For one, there is every reason to believe the shot numbers and underlying numbers this team has produced are an accurate reflection of what it is capable of defensively. It is a good defensive team, and it has good players on the blue line, and it added even more of them this summer.

There is also a pretty striking parallel here with another perpetually mediocre team that always seemed to be just a goalie away from competing — the Winnipeg Jets.

For years the Jets stuck with their same core of players, they stuck with the same goalie, they would have consistently good underlying numbers, and they would always lose because their goalies, for lack of a better word, stunk. Then one year they got a chance to draft a superstar goal-scorer with the No. 2 overall pick (Patrik Laine) to bring everything together up front, and then they finally found a competent goalie in Conor Hellebuyck. The result: An organization that had made the playoffs just once in the past 10 years and had never even won a playoff game was in the Western Conference Final, just a handful of wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.

Are the Hurricanes, as presently constructed, really that far away from where the Jets were heading into the 2017-18 season? While the Jets were built around a group of talented forwards, the Hurricanes have built their core around the blue line — and it is excellent. The point, though, is that there is a young, talented core in place here that could be capable of competing this season. How quickly Svechnikov is able to develop will play a big role in the outcome of the season, but the biggest issue will once again be in net.

They do not need him to be a savior. They do not need him to be Henrik Lundqvist or even a top-five goalie But if Darling is able to be the goalie the Hurricanes thought he could be when they traded for — and signed — him a year ago, an average to maybe slightly above average starter, they could be a lot better than anyone expects them to be, and a lot sooner than any expects them to be, too.

Related

Hurricanes Continue To Strengthen Defense With Calvin de Haan Signing
Hurricanes Get Dougie Hamilton From Calgary Flames

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.

Nikita Kucherov’s $76 million extension with Lightning is a bargain

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While we wait to see how the Erik Karlsson situation is figured out, Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning are going about their business. On Tuesday, it was announced that they’ve re-signed forward Nikita Kucherov to an eight-year, $76 million extension.

“I’m truly grateful to sign this contract extension to keep me in Tampa for the next eight seasons today,” Kucherov said in a statement. “I’d like to thank the Lightning organization and all of the fans for the support since making the Bay Area my home.”

Kucherov has one year left on his current deal, which will pay him $5.55 million this coming season. According to Joe Smith of The Athletic, the extension has a full no-trade claude in the first four years.

The max deal for Kucherov means he’s one of five Lightning players — with Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh — signed through the 2023-24 NHL season. The contract, which kicks in at the start of the 2019-20 season, will put him tied — for the moment — for the sixth-highest cap hit ($9.5 million average annual value) in the league, and yet it still seems like a bargain (not to mention Florida’s state tax situation).

Via the AP’s Stephen Whyno, here’s how the contract breaks down:

19-20: $1M salary/$11M bonus: $12M
20-21: $4M salary/$5M bonus: $9M
21-22: $3.5M salary/$8.5M bonus: $12M
22-23: $4M salary/$5M bonus: $9M
23-24: $5M salary/$5M bonus: $10M
24-25: $5M salary/$4M bonus: $9M
25-26: $5M salary/$3M bonus: $8M
26-27: $4M salary/$3M bonus: $7M

Over the last two seasons only Connor McDavid has more points (208) than Kucherov (185), and only Alex Ovechkin (82) and Patrik Laine (80) have more goals than the 25-year-old Russian (79) since the 2016-17 season.

With the ceiling continuing to rise, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see Kucherov land an extension carrying a double-digit AAV. Yzerman has done a masterful job in Tampa navigating the tricky cap waters tying up his core pieces, while making some additions and still keeping the Lightning not only a playoff team but a Stanley Cup contender.

Here’s where the fun starts: Currently, the Lightning have a little over $65 million tied up in 12 players for the ’19-20 season, per Cap Friendly. Some major salary will have to go out if they’re to land Karlsson and sign him to a max extension. But given his history, it’d be hard to doubt Yzerman’s ability to make it work. The championship window remains open for the Lightning and won’t be closing any time soon.

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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.

Mason trade helps Jets’ chances of re-signing Stastny

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Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff found himself a taker for Steve Mason, which in the end is a big step towards re-signing Paul Stastny.

On Saturday the Jets sent Mason and forward Joel Armia along with a 2019 seventh-round pick and a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for AHL defenseman Simon Bourque.

The move clears $4.1 million in cap space from the Jets’ books, a move that was imperative if they’re to have any shot at re-signing Stastny. They now has a little over $28 million in cap space, per Cap Friendly, and still need to re-sign the likes of Connor Hellebuyck, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, who are all restricted free agents, along with Stastny, who is set to become unrestricted on July 1.

As for Mason, his time in Montreal may not last very long. Already with Carey Price and the newly extended Antti Niemi, the Canadiens could buy out the final year of his deal or flip him to a team with a goaltending need. Saturday is the final day of the first buyout period of the off-season. (UPDATE: Mason has been placed on buyout waivers.)

The rising cap ceiling certainly helped Cheveldayoff’s summer to-do list, but given the names that the Jets want to retain, some money needed to be moved out in order to have the room.

The 32-year-old Stastny scored four times and recorded 13 points in 19 regular season games with the Jets following the February trade. He instantly clicked on the second line centering Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers and his production continued into the postseason as Winnipeg marched to the Western Conference Final. He finished the playoffs with six goals and 15 points in 17 games.

Stastny enjoyed his time his time in Winnipeg and while he said he’s keeping his options open in regards to free agency, it’s clear there was a very good fit with the Jets. Now it’s up to Cheveldayoff to make it happen on a multi-year deal.

“We had a great exit interview together and that’s really my only assessment,” the Jets GM said this week. “Nothing’s changed in that regard. We know the cap number now and it’s time to go to work.”

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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.

Dates of note from the 2018-19 NHL schedule

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The 2018-19 NHL schedule has arrived and the 1,271-game journey to the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins Oct. 4 and ends April 6. We’ll have banners being raised, old friends being reacquainted, outdoor games, games in Europe and nearly a full slate on the season’s final day.

Here’s a look at a dozen notable dates on this coming season’s schedule:

Oct. 3, 2018 – Boston Bruins at Washington Capitals

It’s not the Penguins like we all wished, so the Capitals will have to raise their first Stanley Cup banner against the Bruins. They’ll also be playing for a new head coach before traveling to Pittsburgh for a visit with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins the next night.

Also on Opening Night, we’ll get to see the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the Montreal Canadiens, the Calgary Flames visiting the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks playing host to the Anaheim Ducks.

Oct. 4, 2018 — Philadelphia Flyers at Vegas Golden Knights

An historic inaugural season ended in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. But despite the tough defeat, there was plenty for the Golden Knights and their fans to be proud of. When fans return to T-Mobile Arena for their 2018 home opener, there will be a nice celebration with a banner or two going up in the rafters.

Boston Bruins at Buffalo Sabres

Sabres fans get a first glimpse of Rasmus Dahlin in action when they take on the Bruins in the home opener. The expected 2018 No. 1 overall pick brings plenty of hope to Buffalo as the fanbase prays hard that he, Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt can end their years of misery.

Oct. 6, 2018 – Nashville Predators at New York Islanders

Trotz makes his debut as Islanders head coach against one of his old teams. And no matter how free agency goes, this will be an interesting night at Barclays Center. Either John Tavares will be in the Islanders lineup, having committed to the franchise with a long-term extension and thereby garnering a huge ovation, or he’ll be wearing another jersey and the mood in Brooklyn will be quite glum.

This day will also see the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils facing off in the NHL Global Series in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Oct. 10, 2018 – Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals

A rematch of the Stanley Cup Final that saw the Capitals victorious in five games. Maybe by Oct. 10 Alex Ovechkin will have been separated from the Cup.

Oct. 26, 2018 – Ottawa Senators at Colorado Avalanche

Matt Duchene has been a visiting player against the Avs, but that game actually took place in Sweden last season, so he’s yet to return to Pepsi Center as a Senator. Now, given the state of the Senators, we may get to late October and Duchene could be on a different team. But if he’s still with Ottawa, the reception he gets upon coming back to Denver should be interesting considering how his time with the franchise ended.

Dec. 1, 2018 – Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Islanders

As the Islanders prepare to leave Barclays Center in a few years, this game will be the first of 20 this coming season at their former home of Nassau Coliseum, now known as NYCB Live. The team will play games there over the next few seasons as a new arena gets built by Belmont race track in Elmont.

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Nov. 1-2, 2018 – Florida Panthers vs. Winnipeg Jets

In the second set of Global Games, Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov head home to Finland as the Jets meet the Panthers in Helsinki.

Jan. 1, 2019 – Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins

Hey, what do you know? An outdoor game featuring the Blackhawks. After taking a year off, the Blackhawks are back outside for the Winter Classic and will take on the Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. There will be plenty of shots of Touchdown Jesus and lots and lots of stories of Vinnie Hinostroza’s time in South Bend.

Jan. 18, 2019 – New York Islanders at Washington Capitals

Trotz returns to D.C. where he’ll get some very, very long ovations from the crowd and enjoy a tribute video ending with him raising the Stanley Cup.

Jan. 25-26, 2019 – All-Star Weekend, San Jose

A bit of a change this year as the Skills Competition has been moved to Friday night of All-Star Weekend and the 3-on-3 divisional tournament taking place on Saturday.

Feb. 23, 2019 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The home-and-home Battle of Pennsylvania outdoor series concludes this February when the Penguins visit the Flyers at Lincoln Financial Field for a Stadium Series game. The Penguins were 4-2 victors when the two met in 2017 at Heinz Field. Hopefully the jersey choices are a little better than what they wore in their previous meeting.

April 6, 2019 – Super Saturday

The final day of the 2018-19 regular season will see 30 teams in action, with hopefully some playoff seeds and spots still up for grabs before we get to the postseason.

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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.