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Unsigned restricted free agents as NHL camps open

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With NHL training camps underway and the big trades we were all waiting for (Erik Karlsson, Max Pacioretty) completed the next big thing to watch around the league are the remaining unsigned restricted free agents.

There are seven of them around the league and they all find themselves in a similar situation: They are either 22 or 23 years old, they are coming off of their entry-level contracts, and none of them had any arbitration rights this offseason. As much as everyone around the league hates the arbitration process, there is no denying that it gets things done (either before arbitration or during it), something Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee recently pointed out as he deals with one of the ongoing RFA situations with defenseman Shea Theodore.

“People get pressured into getting a deal done or you go to arbitration,” McPhee said at the start of training camp this past week, via NHL.com. “There’s a group of 10-15 good young players in the League that don’t have arbitration rights and don’t have contracts right now. And it just seems to take a while to work them out.”

A lot of times the big issue at play is the team preferring to sign the player to a shorter-term bridge contract, while the player tends to want the security that comes with a long-term contract.

Let us go around the league and take a quick look at the seven teams and players that still need to reach a deal.

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs — Nylander is the big one still out there because he’s a front-line player and, well, he plays for Toronto and that immediately makes him a big story. He’s already missed the first days of training camp and there are reports that the two sides are still far apart on a deal as Nylander doesn’t want to sign a bridge deal. And quite honestly, neither should Toronto. At this point we have a pretty good idea of the type of player that Nylander is (a really good one) and he is just now entering his peak years. Signing him to a two-year contract now and then signing him to a long-term contract after that after he’s continued to develop into his prime years is probably going to end up costing Toronto more money than if it just signed him to a long-term deal now that is comparable to, say, the one David Pastrnak signed in Boston before the 2017-18 season.

The concern that everyone will have here for Toronto is making this all work under the salary cap. The team spent big money on John Tavares in free agency this summer and after this season will have to sign Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to new contracts. They will not be cheap.

Some might argue that Toronto will have to trade one of the young guys (either Nylander or Marner, with Nylander usually the one being suggested) but the Maple Leafs can make this work with all of them.

Keep your young, impact talent.

Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights — Theodore’s absence and lack of a contract is a pretty big deal for Vegas right now.

Not only was he one of the Golden Knights’ top defenseman a year ago, playing more than 20 minutes a night and finishing with 26 points from the blue line, but with Nate Schmidt set to miss the first 20 games of the season due to a suspension the team is already going to be shorthanded on the blue line.

As recently as Friday afternoon the word here (via TSN’s Pierre LeBrun) is that the two sides were far apart.

Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers — Like the situation in Vegas with Theodore, the Oilers really need Nurse on the ice because an already undermanned unit became even thinner when the Oilers lost Andrej Sekera to injury. On Friday Nurse’s agent told the Edmonton Journal the two sides have a disagreement on what Nurse’s value is currently is, resulting in the 23-year-old defenseman returning to Toronto to continue to train.

Via the Journal:

“We have a disagreement on what Darnell’s value is and at this time there’s no meeting of the minds,” said Nurse’s agent Anton Thun, who feels there’s no reason for Nurse to stay in Edmonton now.

“He’s not under contract with the Oilers. He’s gone back to train where he did all summer, training in the same rink and gym. He can skate with a university or junior team. He won’t be skating by himself,” said Thun, who doesn’t feel Nurse, because of his age (24) is losing that much by not being in camp right now.

“If he didn’t know who his defence partners were or didn’t know the team, it would be important to be on the ice learning the ropes but this is his fourth year in the organization.”

Nurse appeared in all 82 games for the Oilers a year ago and set new career-highs across the board and played more minutes than anyone on the team. (UPDATE: Nurse has signed a two-year deal.)

Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres — Reinhart, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft, may never be a superstar but his production through the first three years of his career has been remarkably consistent, and he should still be viewed as one of the team’s core players along with Jack Eichel and top pick Rasmus Dahlin.

He set new career-highs a year ago with 25 goals (tied for the team lead) and 50 points for the Sabres.

Still, there is a bit of a mystery as to what he can still be. At 22 he is still fairly young and probably has not entered his prime years yet, but after three consecutive years of 20-25 goals and 45-50 points, how much more untapped potential is there with him?

We can try to figure that out a little bit.

Since the start of the 2005-06 season there have been 31 forwards — including Reinhart — that have played at least 149 games through their age 22 season and averaged between 0.50 and 0.60 points per game (here is the list of players via Hockey-Reference).

Overall, it is a fairly strong list with some really good players.

The three best players that went on to become All-Star level players are Corey Perry, Zach Parise and Jakub Voracek, while there very few players that regressed or failed to go on to have productive careers (Steve Bernier, Peter Mueller, and Ryan Strome might fit that category). So there is a chance he could still really break out, but most likely this is probably close to what you should expect from him going forward. If you have a forward that can consistently get you 25 goals and 50 points you have yourself a pretty good top-six forward. Not a superstar by any means, but a player you can certainly win with.

Miles Wood, New Jersey Devils — Wood was one of the many young players the Devils relied on last season as they made their return to the playoffs. His 19 goals were fourth-most on the team (behind only Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier) and he did that while playing just 12 minutes per game over 76 games. On a per-minute basis he was one of the Devils’ most productive goal scorers and it wasn’t really the result of an unsustainably high shooting percentage. He was legitimately good.

General manager Ray Shero said at the start of camp that the two sides are pretty close, but that there are “some philosophical issues that need to be worked out about how the system works.”

Added Shero, via NJ.com, “That’s not just a situation with his agents or Miles himself.”

So chalk another one up under the system isn’t perfect category.

Josh Morrissey, Winnipeg Jets — This isn’t the first time the Jets have had an RFA contract dispute with a young defenseman, going through this pretty regularly over the past few years with Jacob Trouba. That situation has reached a point where it remains unlikely that Trouba remains in Winnipeg long-term. They really do not want that storyline to repeat itself here. Morrissey isn’t quite as good as Trouba, but he is still a former first-round draft pick that has developed nicely and was one of the team’s top-four defenders a year ago, playing more than 20 minutes per night. (UPDATE: Morrissey is now signed.)

Nick Ritchie, Anaheim Ducks — Of all the remaining unsigned RFA’s Ritchie is the one that probably has the least amount of leverage because his career to this point has been, for lack of a better word, uninspiring. The No. 10 overall pick in 2014, Ritchie has appeared in 186 games in his NHL career and recorded just 26 goals and 33 assists (59 total points), including only 10 goals in 76 games a year ago. He is not quite a bust, but he also has not really taken a significant step forward (he actually scored four fewer goals this past season than he did the year before. If there is any player out of this group that should be destined for a “prove it” bridge type of contract, Ritchie is almost certainly the one.

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.

Capitals try to forget Cup celebrations as NHL camps open

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When Alex Ovechkin embraced Josh Norman in a meeting of two of Washington’s biggest sports stars, the Redskins cornerback had a question for the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-winning captain.

”You still celebrating?” Norman asked.

”We’re done,” Ovechkin said. ”We’re done for right now.”

The Capitals seemed to celebrate as hard as any champion in NHL history. When they get on the ice for the first practices of training camp Friday, they will be just one of 31 teams chasing a title all over again.

”We have to forget already about that and focus,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. ”We have to move forward. When you taste that win, you want to do it over again. To do that, it’s not easy.”

A year after being written off as title contenders, the Capitals are now a focal point of the NHL as camps open. Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, the rival Penguins will look to rebound from a second-round postseason exit, the Lightning are stacked even after general manager Steve Yzerman stepped down and the Maple Leafs look like Cup favorites after adding John Tavares.

The Western Conference-champion Golden Knights won’t have Nate Schmidt for any game in the preseason or the first 20 of the regular season after a performance-enhancing drug suspension , while the Blues loaded up on centers in a bid to move past recent playoff disappointments – like the Capitals did a year ago.

Some things to watch from training camps around the league:

ERIK GOES WEST

The NHL was busy Thursday with the Dallas Stars re-signing Tyler Seguin to a $78.8 million, eight-year extension, the Hurricanes naming Justin Williams captain and announcing Victor Rask is out indefinitely after slicing two fingers in a kitchen accident, and the Coyotes giving the ”C” to Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Oh, and the Sharks acquired star defenseman Erik Karlsson in a blockbuster trade with Ottawa.

”It still came as a shock and not something I prepared for or could’ve prepared myself for,” Karlsson said, adding that he hopes to be in San Jose for camp sooner than later after visa issues get worked out.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said they were ”looking for a difference-maker.” After missing out on Tavares, they got one in Karlsson and shifted the balance of power in the Western Conference.

TRYOUT TIME

At least 20 players will attend camps on professional tryout agreements, with defenseman Brandon Davidson in Chicago and winger Scottie Upshall in Edmonton among those most likely to earn a contract. The Oilers – who have the selling point of playing with Connor McDavid – also invited defenseman Jason Garrison and former Capitals forward Alex Chiasson to camp. Edmonton is the land of opportunity this month after missing the playoffs by 17 points last season. The young Bruins are bringing in veterans Daniel Winnik, Lee Stempniak and Mark Fayne on tryouts. Each one will have to wow the coaching staff to make it.

WHO’S NOT THERE

A handful of restricted free agents remain unsigned around the league, including Maple Leafs forward William Nylander, Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore and Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse. Nylander wasn’t listed on Toronto’s 73-player training camp roster released Wednesday. RFAs lack leverage and time, with the season coming up fast next month. Still, such situations are usually resolved before the opener and Nylander, Nurse, Theodore and the others should all sign before Oct. 3.

NEW COACHES

Washington’s Todd Reirden is one of six new coaches, but he has been on Barry Trotz’s staff the past four seasons and had a hand in winning the Cup. Rod Brind’Amour has plenty of familiarity with the Hurricanes after seven seasons as an assistant but an entirely different challenge as he looks to end a league-worst nine-year playoff drought. New faces in new places include Trotz taking his Cup ring to the Islanders, former Carolina coach Bill Peters in Calgary, Jim Montgomery in Dallas and David Quinn with the Rangers. Peters faces big expectations in trying to get the Flames back to contending status in the West.

ROOKIE WATCH

Buffalo No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin is the player to watch in the preseason to see if the smooth-skating Swedish defenseman can make the NHL look as effortless as previous endeavors. Dahlin will make the Sabres’ roster and could contribute immediately on a blue line that needs it. A handful of other top-10 picks have a chance to play on opening night, including Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov, Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk and Detroit’s Filip Zadina.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Current, former teammates shocked by Schmidt suspension

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CHICAGO — Marc-Andre Fleury was surprised and T.J. Oshie said he was shocked to see Nate Schmidt suspended 20 games for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

Current and former teammates expressed degrees of disbelief about the suspension this week after the NHL announced the Vegas Golden Knights defenseman’s punishment on Sunday. Schmidt insisted he didn’t intentionally take a banned substance and couldn’t have gotten any performance benefit from the ”trace amount” that got into his system.

”I really didn’t see how this guy, how this could happen to him,” said Fleury, the goaltender who helped Vegas reach the Stanley Cup Final last season. ”He’s obviously a very straightforward guy. I really believe everything he says. He’s a standup guy, and I don’t see him doing this kind of stuff.”

Schmidt and the Golden Knights released statements disagreeing with the suspension, though neither specified the substance. Schmidt said one of the experts testifying on his behalf at the appeal hearing likened the amount to a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

[How will Schmidt suspension affect Vegas Golden Knights?]

The appeal, which was heard by a neutral arbitrator, was denied.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he tries not to pay attention to the blowback from suspensions like this.

”I think it’s the nature of any performance-enhancing drug policy,” Daly said. ”I don’t view Nate’s reaction to this or the club’s reaction to this to be far different than other reactions you see from other athletes in other sports. It’s just the nature of the beast. I think it’s an unfortunate incident. Nate’s a good guy, he’s a great player. I wish it didn’t happen as much as he does.”

Oshie, who played with Schmidt for two seasons in Washington, trusts the explanation that it wasn’t intentional.

”I think he’s being very honest that this was out of his hands,” Oshie said. ”Knowing Schmidtty and the type of person he is, I can only think that he got the worst run of bad luck you could ever imagine. That’s the nightmare of trying to be healthy and take supplements is something gets tainted in a warehouse that no one would ever have any idea how it happened.”

Former Capitals teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov isn’t as much worried about how it happened as how Schmidt responds to adversity.

”We all know he’s nice guy, but at the same time sometimes you have to deal with the bad days in your life,” Kuznetsov said. ”You don’t want to be in that situation, but some players in different situations have their bad days, right? … Twenty games are not too much. I think they have a good team.”

Schmidt led the Golden Knights in ice time last season at 22:14 per game, and someone will have to fill the role of No. 1 defenseman until he can return Nov. 18. That will likely fall on the likes of Collin Miller, Brayden McNabb and still unsigned Shea Theodore to make sure Vegas doesn’t get off to a rough start.

”We’re lucky,” Fleury said Friday. ”We have some depth on D, and I think everybody contributed to success last season, and I think it’s another part of the season that we need somebody else to step up and not fill his shoes but play well and do the things that they can and we’ll be all right.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

How will Schmidt suspension affect Vegas Golden Knights?

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Earlier today, the NHL announced a 20-game suspension for Nate Schmidt, a decision that both the player and team disagreed with.

Schmidt’s strongly worded statement indicates that the sides have already gone through the appeal process, so barring any other twists, it seems like he’ll be suspended through the first 20 games of the Vegas Golden Knights’ 2018-19 season.

The Golden Knights – and everyone else involved – stated that they won’t have any further comments regarding the suspension itself, but what about how the team will deal with the loss of Schmidt? Because, as much as Vegas’ defense succeeded – to some extent – by committee, the former Capitals defenseman topped Vegas in time on ice during both the regular season and playoffs. He is, to put it mildly, very important, and losing him for about a quarter of the campaign hurts.

We might get more insight on how reigning Jack Adams winner Gerard Gallant will handle the loss (and if reigning GM of the Year George McPhee might also react), so stay tuned at PHT. That said, for those who want some early insight into the impact of this loss, let’s consider multiple factors.

Golden Knights lose a go-to guy

Schmidt averaged 22:14 TOI during 76 regular-season games, then saw his ice time climb to 24:25 per night during the playoffs. Again, both of those averages topped all Golden Knights skaters, with the regular season margin being healthy at about two minutes per game (Shea Theodore came in second with a 20:21 average, with Deryk Engelland right behind him at 20:17), a margin that was similar – yet more pronounced – during the postseason (Theodore averaged 21:48, Engelland at 21:40).

So, while Schmidt didn’t average the bonkers ice time of a Ryan Suter during the regular season, he clearly was the No. 1 guy in Gallant’s eyes. With 2:13 shorthanded TOI and 2:25 on the power play during the playoffs and comparable special teams numbers during the regular season, Schmidt was used as an all-situations guy.

(Schmidt’s most common even-strength defensive partner was Brayden McNabb, according to Natural Stat Trick.)

Beyond Schmidt, Theodore and Colin Miller were logging plenty of time on the man advantage, while Engelland and McNabb were steady penalty killers. Schmidt bridged the gap between those two specialists, in a way, so Vegas loses versatility first and foremost.

Who might step up? Should Vegas dip into the market?

Those previous numbers imply that, possibly, Schmidt’s minutes might just be dispersed between Miller, Engelland, Theodore, and McNabb. Gallant might just lean on all four evenly in their specialized roles. That seemed to be the case during four games in early March when Schmidt was out of the lineup; yes, that’s a small sample size, but Schmidt played in 76 of 82 games.

[These bans are rare, but here are three recent histories of such suspensions]

If those four players can mostly match their work from 2017-18, that’s not the most dire scenario. As with sports, you might expect slippage; after all, Engelland’s generally solid work came as a surprise, while Miller and McNabb are now enjoying the security of long-term deals. (Theodore, meanwhile, still needs a deal as an RFA and probably opened a champagne bottle after seeing Noah Hanifin get paid.)

Vegas didn’t see those key guys leave in free agency, but they didn’t exactly break the bank for reinforcements on defense, either. Nick Holden, 31, is the most noteworthy addition, while they got rid of fading veterans Luca Sbisa and Jason Garrison.

Holden stands as a modest upgrade over some of the lowest-end guys, but probably not much more than that.

It makes you wonder if maybe McPhee should consider bringing in some additional depth. No, there aren’t a ton of promising options on the UFA defensemen market, but Cody Franson seems like a low-risk, OK-reward signing, one who could make sense as a bottom-pairing guy or injury insurance even after Schmidt’s suspension ends.

Those 20 games

It doesn’t hurt to glance at Vegas’ opening schedule and try to gauge how difficult life will be. Take a look at the first 20 games of the 2018-19 season (four of which air on NBCSN):

Thu, Oct 4 vs Philadelphia
Sat, Oct 6 @ Minnesota
Mon, Oct 8 @ Buffalo
Wed, Oct 10 @ Washington
Thu, Oct 11 @ Pittsburgh
Sat, Oct 13 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 16 vs Buffalo
Sat, Oct 20 vs Anaheim
Wed, Oct 24 vs Vancouver
Fri, Oct 26 vs Tampa Bay
Sun, Oct 28 vs Ottawa
Tue, Oct 30 @ Nashville
Thu, Nov 1 @ St. Louis
Sat, Nov 3 vs Carolina
Tue, Nov 6 @ Toronto
Thu, Nov 8 @ Ottawa
Sat, Nov 10 @ Montreal
Sun, Nov 11 @ Boston
Wed, Nov 14 vs Anaheim
Fri, Nov 16 vs St. Louis

The Golden Knights may end up missing Schmidt most during that early five-game road trip, along with that stretch of six of seven games away from home spanning Oct. 30 – Nov. 11.

It’s not all bad, though. There are only two back-to-back sets, and while they have fewer home (nine) than road (11) games, it’s not by an enormous margin. Vegas has a decent shot to navigate that quarter-season without its ice time leader from 2017-18.

Contract year uncertainty for Schmidt

Schmidt was already coming into 2018-19 on a cheap deal, as his cap hit is just $2.25 million with a $2.3M salary. Now he’s expected to lose almost $500K (via TSN’s Frank Seravalli), and the biggest cost might be how this situation affects his next contract.

With a nice 36-point output and top pair duty, Schmidt already raised his standing in the NHL, and it seemed like he might join Ryan Ellis and other defensemen cashing in before they hit 2019 free agency. Schmidt loses out on 20 games to cement his status as a top-pairing defenseman, possibly even increasing his standing in the eyes of NHL executives.

Now, who knows? It’s a disappointing situation for the defenseman, to put things mildly.

***

While there have been other 20-game suspensions for performance-enhancing substances, every other instance was a player who wasn’t a significant part of a team (with all apologies to 2015-16 Shawn Horcoff).

The Golden Knights were already facing a serious challenge in showing that their incredible first season in the NHL wasn’t a fluke. Their second season hasn’t even begun and they’ve already lost Schmidt, their leading defenseman from last season, for 20 games.

How will Vegas adjust, and how will Schmidt perform once his suspension is over? Those are fascinating questions, and serious hurdles for the player and team.

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.

Karlsson, Golden Knights avoid arbitration with one-year deal

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They waited until the 11th hour, but the Vegas Golden Knights and scorer of many goals, William Karlsson, have settled on a new deal just prior to their arbitration hearing, which was scheduled for Saturday morning.

Wild Bill’s contract is a one-year pact worth $5.25 million and appears to be a win-win for both sides.

The contract allows the Golden Knights to see if Karlsson can replicate this past season’s success and avoids the risk of signing him long-term only for him to find a steep regression.

For Karlsson, it’s a nice bump in pay from the $1 million he made last season, and a chance to move into the stratosphere next summer in terms of annual average value.

Vegas played it safe here, knowing they’ll have to pay more next summer should Karlsson hit the repeat button.

Karlsson will become a restricted free agent with the same arbitration rights he had this year, next offseason. If things are going well by Jan. 1, the Golden Knights and Karlsson’s camp can open up extension talks.

[Should Golden Knights go long or short-term with William Karlsson?]

Karlsson was nothing short of spectacular this season for the Golden Knights, coming out of nowhere to produce at an elite rate. Picked up from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the expansion draft, Karlsson went on to amass a whopping 43 goals in 82 games in his third season — not bad considering he scored a total of 18 in 183 previous NHL games. His best season total before 2017-18? Nine goals – annihilating his previous best.

His 43 goals placed him third in the league behind two other elite snipers in Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine.

The Golden Knights will enter the 2018-19 season with the line of Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith intact. The trio was nothing short of dominant all season long, combining for 216 points. Karlsson led the way with 78 of those and was Vegas’ top goal scorer and point producer.

Karlsson’s fine form continued in the Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, posting seven goals and 15 points in 20 games.

His performance this past season, coupled with his uber-low 12 penalty minutes, earned him the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy and his fat new contract.

Karlsson was reportedly asking for $6.5 million per season while the Golden Knights were offering $3.5 million. They ended up nearly splitting it down the middle, with Karlsson getting $1.75 million more than the team wanted and $1.25 million less than where his number began.

It’s nice to see that a team and a player can figure out roughly what an arbitrator is going to do beforehand and avoid the process.

The Golden Knights now sit at roughly $71 million counting against $79.5 million salary cap for next season, per CapFriendly. The Golden Knights have just one more restricted free agent to sign, that being defenseman Shea Theodore.

With a potential $1.425 million in bonuses to be paid out this year, Vegas still has roughly $7 million in cap room to play with.


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