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Blue Jackets get nice value with Bjorkstrand; Panarin meeting looms

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With agitating uncertainty surrounding the long-term futures of Sergei Bobrovsky and especially Artemi Panarin, it’s probably wrong to say that the Columbus Blue Jackets wrapped up their “to-do list” on Sunday.

They’ve at least taken care of the matters that are more in their hands this weekend.

On Saturday, defenseman (and potential-gone-wrong) Ryan Murray accepted Columbus’ qualifying offer in something of a shoulder shrug signing. The next day, it was more of a fist bump, as intriguing forward Oliver Bjorkstrand agreed to a friendly three-year deal.

The team didn’t confirm this in its release (because reasons), but the cap hit is a thrifty $2.5 million per season, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline and others.

During his first season in the NHL, the 23-year-old showed promise, scoring 11 goals and 40 points despite modest ice time (an average of 14:18 TOI per game). The Athletic’s Alison Lukan notes that Bjorkstrand checks many of the analytics boxes – rarely a bad sign – so there’s some very genuine optimism that the Dane will deliver strong value.

Personally, it’s also nice to see that he’s hungry to score more goals.

Speaking of the to-do list regarding items they might not have the power to address, Panarin announced that he and his agent will meet with Blue Jackets brass on Monday. Maybe a contract extension actually could happen? Maybe a different sort of resolution is coming?

A lot rides on that situation, yet it doesn’t hurt to land good values at a nice price. That’s absolutely the case with Bjorkstrand.

Really, value might be one of the themes of this Blue Jackets summer, as Bjorkstrand joins Anthony Duclair and Riley Nash as potentially wise bets. Cap Friendly notes that Columbus has its RFAs signed with $5.6M in cap space remaining, so perhaps they have more up their sleeves?

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

PHT Morning Skate: Lamoriello hasn’t been perfect; Corvo CrossFit Champ?

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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.

• It’s okay to say Lou Lamoriello hasn’t been perfect since taking over Islanders. (IslandersPointBlank)

Erik Karlsson is likely getting traded. Or maybe not? (Scotty Wazz)

• A deep dive into how much can the Stars expect from Mattias Janmark going forward. (Dallas News)

• Former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joe Corvo is on the verge of becoming a CrossFit champion. (News & Observer)

• Already on the verge of losing Artemi Panarin, could the Columbus Blue Jackets also lose two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky? (1st Ohio Battery)

Nail Yakupov went from No. 1 draft pick to in the mix for the No. 1 draft bust of all-time. A look at how he was set up for it. (Sporting News)

• Brian MacLellan’s moves off the ice helped the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup on it this year. Here’s a look at what he did in 2017-18. (Nova Caps)

• A look into how the current Calgary Flames roster came to be. (Flames Nation)

• The Chicago Blackhawks have been relatively quiet this offseason, despite missing the playoffs — a rare feat for a team that’s dominated so much over the past decade. Are they expected to do anything else? (NBC Sports Chicago)

• Philadelphia Flyers prospect goaltender Carter Hart has done something no 20-year-old before him has ever done: Got off of Twitter. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• The NHL’s future in esports. (ESPN)

• For Montreal Canadiens forward Kirk Muller is getting into artificial intelligence. (Montreal Gazette)


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

Could a Hart and a Lyon be the future in Philly’s crease?

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It’s a place where goalies go to die.

Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov, who famously said as much when talking about coming to the Philadelphia Flyers in the lead up to the Winter Classic in 2012 against New York Rangers.

‘Bryz’ righty predicted his own fate, sharing the same doom as many others who came before him in the City of Brotherly Love, falling off the map not long after and never finding his way back.

Recent memory hasn’t been kind to the Flyers at the goalie position. They once had Sergei Bobrovsky, but traded him, essentially, for a bag of pucks to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

There, Bob went on to supplant Steve Mason in goal and win two Vezina’s.

Mason ended up signing with the Flyers and managed a decent season in his first year. But from there he started to spiral downward. This summer, after an injury-plagued season with the Winnipeg Jets, who signed him last summer as a free agent, was bought out by the Montreal Canadiens following a trade right before Free Agent Frenzy kicked off as the Jets looked to dump salary.

We can go back further, too.

There was the Robert Esche era, the Antero Niittymaki experiment, Martin Biron, Brian Boucher and a host of other failures in the Flyers’ crease.

Last season, Brian Elliott wasn’t exactly earth-shattering acquisition that the Flyers hope he’d be when they snapped him up for two years a year ago. And backup Michal Neuvirth, who might have the potential to be a starter in the NHL, can’t stay healthy for long enough to see it through.

It leaves the Flyers in a precarious position, despite a stable of goaltenders heading into this season.

Both Elliott and Neuvirth’s contracts will expire at the end of this season. The Flyers signed Alex Lyon to a two-year deal on Saturday, ensuring the guy who helped the Flyers into the playoffs last season down the stretch would be around to fight for a spot in the NHL next season (and provide some much-needed depth should Neuvirth go down, again).

The Flyers seemingly have their ace in the hole in Carter Hart, a highly-touted 2016 draft pick out of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League.

Hart led Team Canada to a gold medal the World Junior Hockey Championships this past winter and was named the WHL’s Player of the Year, the WHL Goalie of the Year and the Canadian Hockey League’s Goalie of the Year (for the second time) this past season — his last in junior hockey.

His junior stats put him among the pantheon of CHL’s best ever to man the crease.

And all of that has led to a hype train going full-steam ahead for Flyers’ fans, who’ve been starving for a legitimate superstar netminder for years, if not decades.

It remains to be seen what general manager Ron Hextall does with Hart this season but managing Hart’s progression as a pro is paramount.

The last thing the Flyers want to do is rush Hart and stunt his growth. Elliott and Neuvirth can hold down the fort for another season, allowing Hart to get a year of pro hockey under his belt in Lehigh Valley, while having Lyon ready to answer the call should someone get injured on the big club.

If the Flyers move Neuvirth via trade, Lyon seems the de facto replacement to back up Elliott, still leaving Hart time to hone his craft in the minors.

There’s hope, it seems, in Philadelphia.

There has been before.

Whether or not this time is any different, only time will tell.

Hart’s going to have to handle more than just his on-ice game as he works his way into the NHL. Lyon showed some good signs last year under pressure late in the season.

For now, they’re the future beyond next season.

Perhaps, finally, the curse can be broken for Flyers’ fans.

What’s your take, Philly fans?


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

Best bargains on day one of NHL free agency

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With all the money thrown around – often recklessly – in free agency, it’s probably tough to believe that you can find bargains. You know, aside from no-brainer deals like Toronto signing John Tavares.

Such a notion seems especially unthinkable during the first day of the open market, and that’s not just because the Vancouver Canucks continue to confound the hockey world with confusing contracts. It’s probably tempting for some fans to pool money for a billboard just to ask their GMs to wait until after July 1 to strike deals.

As tough as it might be to believe, there actually were a few contracts that look great, at least as of today.

(Injuries, clashes with coaching staffs, and plenty of other variables can make such praise seem silly in hindsight, however.)

These signings rank as the best of the bargain bin as free agency began.

[For a full list of free agent moves, including in the days leading up to today, click here]

Buffalo Sabres make a smart buy in net: Carter Hutton as a team’s top goalie is a risky proposition if he’s paid like a top goalie normally would be.

In the case of Buffalo, though, Hutton ranks as an expensive backup, pay-wise. Read this post for more on that.

Not a lot of cash for Riley Nash: The Columbus Blue Jackets landed a “Ri- Nash,” but not Rick Nash, on Sunday. There’s a strong chance that we’ll look back at that as a good thing.

TSN’s Darren Dreger and others report that Nash’s cap hit will be a meager $2.75 million through 2020-21. That could end up being a steal for a 29-year-old center who scored 15 goals and 46 points last season; he looked especially impressive for the Boston Bruins when he was pressed into top-line duty thanks to injuries to Patrice Bergeron.

At the moment, the Blue Jackets must feel limited in how they can spend, as both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky enter contract years in 2018-19. This signing improved Columbus’ scoring depth while leaving plenty of space for bigger names.

An affordable reunion for St. Louis: Yes, David Perron‘s bounced around the NHL quite a bit, and he didn’t end things all that well with the Vegas Golden Knights, as his offense dried up late in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s easy to forget just how integral the 30-year-old winger was to Vegas’ success during the regular season, though. Perron managed close to a point-per-game, as he generating 66 in 70 contests. He was “clutch,” too, as three of his four game-winning goals came in overtime.

Perron’s enjoyed plenty of success before, including during his previous tours with St. Louis. Read more about the Perron signing (and the more debatable Tyler Bozak deal) in this post.

Cheap gambles on goalies: Consider aforementioned bargain goalie Carter Hutton as the ace of a class of goalies who could deliver great puck-stops for the buck.

To put things mildly, Petr Mrazek‘s experienced a bumpy road the last few years, including erratic play in Detroit and then Philly last season. There’s been some distance between his best moments and today, which explains why he only commanded a one-year deal at a cheap $1.5M.

That said, his best days showed a lot of promise, including a 2015-16 season with the Red Wings when he managed a 27-16-6 record with a strong .921 save percentage. Carolina’s been the place where goalie stats go to die. What if, instead, Mrazek could revive his career with the Hurricanes? It’s worth a shot, especially if Scott Darling‘s own struggles aren’t a one-year headache.

The Blues lost Carter Hutton this summer, but they turned around and signed Chad Johnson, another goalie who’s seen some nice moments, to a one-year, $1.75M deal.

While Johnson suffered a lousy season with Buffalo, he’s shown multiple flourishes of being the type of backup who can hold down the fort with good-to-great numbers if a starter flounders. Jake Allen‘s faced his ups and downs since becoming the Blues’ top goalie, so Johnson’s presence may be crucial to St. Louis’ hopes of returning to the postseason.

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You can make some other arguments for bargains. If you stretch the rules and count extensions, Oliver Ekman-Larsson signing for almost $3M less per season than Drew Doughty could be a big deal for Arizona, particularly since the budget team is hoping to be competitive. As strange as this sounds, Tavares at $11M per year probably stands as a relative bargain, too.

What are some contracts that stand as steals to you? Do any of the listed bargains actually count as albatross deals? Do tell.

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.