Steven Stamkos

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

3 Comments

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.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

NHL’s restricted free agents have proven to be untouchables

Getty Images

Some of the NHL’s best, young players are available.

Technically.

Mitch Marner, Brayden Point and Jacob Trouba are just a few of the restricted free agents in a bumper crop.

Every team in the league would like to add any of those players this summer. However, it would be a big surprise in the NHL if any team tries to sign them away.

The Montreal Canadiens became the first franchise in six years to extend an offer sheet to a restricted free agent earlier this week, hoping the Carolina Hurricanes would pass on matching the $42 million, five-year deal for Sebastian Aho. Less than 24 hours later, Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell announced the franchise was going to keep its star forward .

Drafting and developing players is what NHL teams attempt to do well as they chase the Stanley Cup, certainly in the salary cap era. And, that is one of the reasons teams are reluctant to extend offer sheets to restricted free agents.

”The way the system is set up with offer sheets, it’s too punitive because of the draft picks you have to give up,” said sports agent Kurt Overhardt, who represents Trouba. ”The record has shown it doesn’t make sense for a lot of teams. Montreal took a chance, forcing a notoriously frugal owner to make a decision and he matched. But as long as you have the cap space, you have to match.”

If Carolina chose not to match the offer for Aho, the Canadiens would have given up a draft pick in the first, second and third rounds. If Montreal offered a little more money on the offer sheet, it risked losing an additional first-round selection. And if the franchise offered Aho an average of at least $10,568,590 over the course of the contract, it would have lost four first-round picks if the Hurricanes refused to pay Aho that much.

Agents of restricted free agents attempt to use the possibility of offer sheets in negotiations. Teams, meanwhile, know offer sheets are extremely uncommon and they seem to have the power in talks. That is true particularly when players don’t have arbitration rights.

”As an RFA you just want to be paid what you feel your value is and the offer sheet is one of a few points of leverage you can use,” Winnipeg Jets center Andrew Copp said. ”It’s more important to have arbitration rights, but you only have so many options as a restricted player so it can be frustrating not being able to use one of your options.”

Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said it’s tough to predict if Montreal’s move would be made by another team this summer.

”There’s obviously several very high-profile, very good, young players out there,” Yzerman said. ”If this is a trend, I really don’t know. I’m curious to see how it plays out.”

As good as Marner, Point and Trouba are, they will likely end up being re-signed rather than extended an offer sheet.

The salary cap-squeezed Toronto Maple Leafs recently made moves to free up money to re-sign the 22-year-old Marner. The third-year center ranked fourth in the NHL with 68 assists and was just outside of the top 10 in the league with 94 points last season.

Tampa Bay does not appear to have a lot of money to spend, with stars Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos counting $18 million per year against the salary cap, but it will want to find a way to keep the 23-year-old Point. The center had 92 points last season and has 198 in his three years in the NHL.

The New York Rangers acquired Trouba in a trade with Winnipeg even though they would have to sign the offensive-minded defenseman as a restricted free agent. The Rangers invested a lot in free agent Artemi Panarin , giving him $81.5 million over seven years this week, and don’t seem worried about an offer sheet making negotiations more challenging with Trouba.

”Restricted is the emphasized word in restricted free agency,” said agent Brian Bartlett, whose clients include restricted free agent Will Butcher, who had 74 points in two seasons as a New Jersey Devils defenseman. ”The teams know it’s unlikely and yet with Aho, it probably helped move negotiations along because you would assume Carolina didn’t offer the same structure in its contract offer.

”There’s always the opportunity for an offer sheet, but it has happened once every six years and the odds are against it happening more when you consider the thousands of players who have been restricted free agents.”

Why Joe Pavelski is an unusual free agent risk-reward case

Getty Images
3 Comments

It’s kind of hard to believe it, but Joe Pavelski will turn 35 on July 11.

Frankly, Pavelski doesn’t really feel like a player who’s about to turn 35, so maybe it’s fitting that his next contract apparently won’t fall under the 35+ designation, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and others note.

In a nutshell: 35+ contracts exist to keep teams from trying to sign veteran players to longer deals that are front-loaded to circumvent the salary cap, while the provisions also provide some protections for players fearing buyouts, AHL demotions, and other ignominious ends.

So, Pavelski not being eligible for that 35+ provision is great news for potential suitors, right?

Well … we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s remember how good Pavelski is.

Pavelski’s really good!

Either way, reports indicate that the market has been strong for Pavelski. In a free agent roundup on Friday (sub required), The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports that Pavelski’s suitors are in the “double digits,” while Friedman reports that Pavelski’s had the luxury of rejecting teams who (in his opinion) aren’t close to contending. There are mixed impressions of Pavelski’s willingness to sign with the Minnesota Wild, for example, as The Athletic’s Michael Russo indicates that the situation is fluid (sub required there, too).

Bottom line: it sounds like Pavelski has plenty of options, and Friedman indicates that Pavelski is seeking term and a chance to win a Stanley Cup.

On its face, that’s great, and the down-the-line flexibility of Pavelski not being a 35+ contract makes multiple years far less intimidating to bidders.

Because, let’s be clear: Pavelski remains a fantastic player. While it’s unrealistic to expect a 38 goal in 75 game pace like Pavelski enjoyed last season, what with a 20.2 shooting percentage that’s high even for a quality shooter with a 12.5 career average, 2018-19 marked the third season in a row of at least 64 points. Before that, Pavelski was even better, generating 70+ points for three consecutive seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-16.

Pavelski’s scored 355 goals since coming into the NHL in 2006-07, ranking him 10th best. His 221 goals since the latest NHL lockout in 2012-13 is even more impressive, placing him at sixth, ahead of the likes of Steven Stamkos, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Phil Kessel.

It’s about more than scoring for Pavelski, too, as he checks plenty of “fancy stats” boxes, while also pleasing the old-school crowd by often playing through absolute agony during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If you’re a team hoping to take the next step by adding Pavelski – or, in the case of the Sharks, by keeping him – then you might be wondering what’s not to like?

Risky business

Here’s a medium-hot take: 35+ contracts might sometimes protect teams from themselves – they tend to make foolish decisions on July 1, or thereabouts – and that hurdle might have been a blessing in disguise for those who want Pavelski.

Personally, I’d probably want to spend more on Pavelski on a per-year basis, while keeping his term low. That way, if Pavelski hits the aging curve — not outrageous, especially after the extremely painful year he endured — you can at least mitigate the risk in term.

Instead, Pavelski is basically like every other UFA, and considering his substantial talent (and intangibles?), he’ll be one of the biggest targets. That means he gets to pick and choose, which probably means big money (fine) and maybe the most term he can find (probably not so fine).

You merely need to look to Patrick Marleau as an example of how this could go wrong for a Pavelski suitor.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Even with the 35+ provision hovering as a red flag, the Toronto Maple Leafs gave Marleau three years of term. In maybe the most predictable outcome ever, that deal went sour pretty quickly, especially when you consider how that extra year backed Toronto into a corner. They were able to get out of that bind, but at the extreme cost of a first-round pick. For a team that could really benefit from unearthing a difference-maker on a cheap entry-level contract, that really burns.

Again, Pavelski wouldn’t be on a 35+ contract, but signing an older player and not really worrying that much about the future can have adverse effects.

The Anaheim Ducks bought out Corey Perry, even though the benefits were actually … kind of minimal? Perry wasn’t 35+ (he’s 34, yet seems about five years older than Pavelski considering Perry’s decline), but he serves as a reminder that, actually, the buy out option isn’t always much of a boon, either.

A team could really take on some serious risks if they sign Pavelski for a considerable term. While there’s a risk with just about any free agent, those warning signs crop up sooner for a player who’s 35, and it’s not as though Pavelski’s lacking mileage even beyond his age.

Take the Stars, for example.

Right now, the idea of adding Pavelski is really enticing. The Stars struggled mightily to score beyond Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn, but with Roope Hintz rising, imagine how tough an out that team could be if they added Pavelski?

Fascinating, but if the term is excessive, then the Marleau parallels crop up, even though Pavelski wouldn’t be a 35+ contract.

In signing Pavelski, it would be that much tougher to squeeze everyone under the cap as time goes along. Miro Heiskanen could be in line for a huge raise once his rookie deal expires after 2020-21, and John Klingberg‘s bargain $4.25M cap hit only lasts through 2021-22.

There’s the thought that, if Pavelski was 35+, he might only sign for two or three years, in which case the Stars could funnel whatever he makes to Heiskanen or Klingberg. Instead, if there’s overlap, and especially if there’s overlap and Pavelski’s play plummets, then the Stars might have to bribe someone to take Pavelski off their hands, much like the Leafs with Marleau.

***

In other words, if Pavelski carried the greater risk of the 35+ contract, that might have … actually convinced teams to reduce their own risks?

Of course, this is also assuming that NHL GMs care, either way. In an auction-like setting such as the “free agent frenzy,” maybe GMs would have given Pavelski virtually the same, extremely risky deal, under even riskier 35+ circumstances. These executives aren’t always all that forward-thinking, particularly if their jobs are on the line.

Let’s recall what then-Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis said about signing David Clarkson to a terrifying seven-year contract:

“I’m not worried about six or seven right now,” Nonis said back in 2013, via The Globe & Mail. “I’m worried about one. And Year 1, I know we’re going to have a very good player. I believe that he’s got a lot of good years left in him.”

As it turned out, Clarkson was someone to worry about from the very beginning, but the point stands.

Is Pavelski worth the risk of a longer contract? That depends on a number of factors, including how much term might bring the per-year number down, and how much a given team actually believes in their Stanley Cup chances.

Ultimately, though, if you’re a team-building nerd like me, you’re amused by the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the heightened risk of Pavelski if he was a 35+ contract might have actually saved some teams from themselves. Pavelski’s been a great player, and could be great or at least very good in the near future, but Father Time’s punishment can be as sudden as it is cruel, so we’ll have to see how this all works out.

Be warned teams, even if that 35+ isn’t hovering like Michael Myers creeping on his next victim.

(Wait, is Michael Myers … Father Time?)

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.

The Wraparound: Bruins need to solve Blue Jackets’ Bobrovsky in a hurry

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

It must feel like mission impossible right now.

Finding a way past Sergei Bobrovsky in these playoffs has been, in a word, frustrating. Never have we seen a playoff iteration of Bob that’s been so dominant. His normal, leaky self at this time of year has been all patched up. It presented a world of problems for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1 and sealant only hardened as Columbus’ run shifted to Round 2.

The Boston Bruins need to find something in Game 4 against the Blue Jackets on Thursday (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Anything.

Bobrovsky has allowed just one goal in the past 1:21:41 of game time, and that goal only passed the goal line by a half an inch. Their previous goal, David Pastrnak‘s lone marker in the series, deflected off his skate. Goals are goals, but Boston’s output has been poor at best and they’ve been relying on the fluke train to hit its stops on time. It hasn’t. The fluke train is often late.

And Bob has been there when the spectacular has been demanded.

2011 – 2018 
• Record: 5-4
• GAA: 3.49
• Sv%: .891
• Games allowing 4+ goals: 10

2019
• Record: 6-1
• GAA: 1.89
• Sv%: .937
• Games allowing 4+ goals: 0

Combine Bob’s play with the Blue Jackets forecheck and you have a combination that’s built to stifle opposing offenses.

“The secondary saves that he’s making are very impressive,” Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo said. “But he’s definitely going to crack at some point. I have a lot of faith that we’re going to put pucks past him really soon. We had really good opportunities through all three periods to put pucks behind him and you credit him today. But overall I don’t think it’s going to last.”

If Carlo’s premonition is come to pass, he’s going to need his team’s big three to step up to the plate.

Here are some streaks you don’t want to hear as a Boston fan:

  • Season-long four-game point drought for Brad Marchand
  • Season-long three-game point drought for Patrice Bergeron
  • No goals in eight of the past 10 games for Pastrnak

“Is it sustainable? I don’t know,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I can’t predict the future. I’d like to think they’re going to have to score. Obviously, some of that starts on the power play. We had one that was not very good – the second one, we got taken off it, so that’s not even really a power play. We’re going to have to figure something out as a group.”

Indeed.

Boston is just 1-for-10 on the power play in the series. They were 7-for-16 in Round 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs and were third in the NHL, clipping along at 25.9 percent during the regular season.

Columbus’ game plan of shutting down the other team’s best is always the plan in theory, but they’ve done a remarkable job of it in these playoffs. Tampa’s top three scorers in Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point — all 40-goal scorers — were held to just five points across the first-round sweep. Pastrnak’s goal stands as the only point among himself, Marchand and Bergeron thus far.

Whatever’s in the water in Ohio is working then. The Bruins may want to steal a sip from that tap prior to Game 4. Going down 3-1 in a series is pretty much a death sentence.

 [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE: 

Game 4: San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche, 10 p.m. ET, Sharks lead 2-1: As long as Logan Couture stays healthy for the San Jose Sharks, it seems they’ll do just fine. Since 2010, Couture’s 43 playoff goals only trail Alex Ovechkin‘s 50. And while Couture hadn’t scored since his heroics in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights, he made a triumphant entrance into Round 2 with a hat trick that made sure the Avs’ rally from a 2-0 deficit would be all for naught. Colorado had won eight straight at home before Couture and Co. sullied that. The Avs would do well converting some of their power-play opportunities. They were 0-for-4 in Game 3, including misfiring on a late-game attempt as they looked for an equalizer. (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN)

TUESDAY’S SCORES:
Hurricanes 5, Islanders 2
Stars 4, Blues 2

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info
Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins
Hurricanes vs. Islanders
Blues vs. Stars
Avalanche vs. Sharks


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

No punishment for Bruins’ Marchand, who doesn’t ‘regret’ cheap shot

18 Comments

Boston Bruins star-miscreant Brad Marchand isn’t expected to face supplemental discipline for his very Brad Marchand sucker-punch of Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline.

If you’re hoping that Marchand might have “learned” something from this experience, well, you haven’t been paying much attention, have you?

Marchand admitted to The Boston Globe’s Matt Porter that his punch to the back of Harrington’s head (while Harrington’s back was turned, and he was off his feet), was “unnecessary,” … but Marchand also said that he doesn’t regret doing it, explaining it away as “playoff hockey.” Then cue some whataboutism, in regard to Columbus apparently roughing up Jake DeBrusk.

To Harrington’s credit, he’s not throwing gas on the fire. Instead, he called it a “hockey play” and emphasized that the Blue Jackets are moving on, as NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports. (This article has even more on Harrington brushing it off.)

Allowing Marchand to be his own worst enemy?

You may chalk this up as “living well is the best revenge.”

The Blue Jackets have won two consecutive games to snare a 2-1 series lead against the Bruins in Round 2, including Tuesday’s strong Game 2 effort.

Bottling up Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak has been a big part of Columbus’ success. Marchand specifically is on a four-game pointless streak, stretching back to Game 7 of Round 1 against the Maple Leafs, and he must be getting frustrated being that he’s failed to score a goal despite generating nine shots on goal against Sergei Bobrovsky over three games.

While going without a point, Marchand’s taken two penalties, and both resulted in power-play goals for the Blue Jackets. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Bruins are planning on having a talk with Marchand about discipline.

Honestly, it’s hard not to chuckle at the thought of the Bruins having what must be the billionth “talk” with Marchand about his antics.

Years ago, even stretching back to the later days of the Peter Chiarelli era in 2014, there were rumblings about Marchand being traded, in large part because of his sometimes self-destructive tendencies. Marchand’s ascent from a very good player to a full-fledged superstar has been aided by a better balance of scoring versus shenanigans, yet it sure seems like it’s too much to argue that he’s fully reformed.

(Granted, his playoff lick count appears to be at zero, unless we’ve missed some sneaky snacking.)

All things considered, the Blue Jackets are being pretty smart here. Sure, some of John Tortorella’s no-comment approach is to avoid fines for officiating, but if this side stuff gets Marchand off of his game and into the penalty box, that could be the sort of factor that helps Columbus win a Round 2 series that’s been very extremely close so far.

In other words, the Blue Jackets may profit off of a “don’t feed the troll” approach.

Teaching moment

Onlookers have been quick to voice their disapproval, however.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen believes that a suspension is warranted, considering Marchand’s history. Even those who argue that it wasn’t suspension-worthy also called it “greasy” or even “a greasy rat play.”

The “it is what it is” feeling spreads when you realize that sneaky punches do happen quite often during these scuffles. The Blue Jackets experienced this before when Steven Stamkos snuck a shot in on Nick Foligno (note Foligno’s death stare), and plenty was made of Zdeno Chara landing a punch on John Tavares.

“These things happen” makes it tough to suspend Marchand, yet maybe this moment could inspire some broader change? What if the NHL decides during the off-season to ramp up punishments for these types of moments, particularly involving punches to the head, especially as we gain more awareness of the dangers of head injuries? Would other players – not just recidivists like Marchand – really take the chance to throw unnecessary punches like those if there was a more credible threat of a suspension?

***

Whether he’s getting under the Blue Jackets’ skin, scoring goals, or having a meltdown while failing to accomplish either task, it should be fascinating to watch Marchand in Game 4 and as this series goes along. Just don’t expect some big change of heart from one of the most prolific pests of the playoffs.

Game 4 goes at 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday on NBCSN (Stream live).

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.