Under Pressure: Jonathan Toews


This post is part of Blackhawks Day on PHT…

In the two years after Brandon Saad was traded to Columbus, Jonathan Toews went through a whole host of left wingers and never really found consistent chemistry with any of them.

So on June 23, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman went out and got Saad back.

The cost was significant, with Chicago sending Artemi Panarin to the Blue Jackets. But in order to get Toews back on track offensively, Bowman felt the deal had to be made.

“There’s no doubt they had tremendous chemistry,” Bowman said of Toews and Saad, per the Chicago Tribune. “When Brandon first came in as a rookie he found a home there on Jonathan’s left wing. … It’s comfortable knowing he had great success with Jonathan, and if they go back to that it’s great.”

Now, the flip side of that is Patrick Kane‘s chemistry with Panarin. Those two were terrific together, along with center Artem Anisimov, and now Kane will have to make do with somebody else on his line.

“I’d be lying to you if I was sitting up here saying I wasn’t disappointed when it first went down, no doubt about it,” Kane said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “Artemi’s a great kid, someone I got along with really well off the ice and had that chemistry with on the ice. It was just fun to play with him every night. I’ll miss him, for sure.”

So put yourself in Toews’ shoes. The first two years of your massive contract extension, you didn’t produce enough and your team didn’t get out of the first round. Not only that, your GM was so worried about your production that he traded one of the NHL’s most dynamic players to get your old linemate back.

Toews already went into last season putting pressure on himself to score more — and he ended up with just 21 goals, the fewest of his NHL career.

But at least he had a decent excuse, given the lack of quality on his left wing.

That excuse is gone now.

Related: Will the ‘Hawks regret trading Panarin?

The Predators’ Stanley Cup window is wide open


This post is part of Predators Day on PHT…

Nashville’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final may have ended in heartbreak — in no small part thanks to a blown call by the referee — but with a young core and no glaring roster weaknesses, this team should remain a contender for years to come.

Among the key pieces locked up: Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm.

Of those seven, the oldest is Subban, and he just turned 28.

Among those seven, there is a legitimate No. 1 center in Johansen, and there are arguably two No. 1 defensemen in Subban and Josi.

And now, not only do the Predators have the talent to compete for a Cup, they’ve gained some valuable playoff experience.

“There are so many good things that we learned as a group,” retired captain Mike Fisher said after falling to the Penguins in six games. “How to play. How to come together as a team and believe in each other. I think there’s only positives that can come out of this. Obviously, losing is never easy, but I think we learned a lot of lessons that guys will carry forward, for sure.”

Of course, the Preds aren’t the only ones with championship aspirations. In the Western Conference alone, there are a handful of teams that think they can win it all. In the long history of the NHL, there has perhaps never been such parity.

That’s why the goal of any general manager should be to open a Stanley Cup window for more than a year or two. Because, let’s face it, a team also needs some luck to hoist the Cup. In the playoffs, one never knows when disaster will strike. Like, say, losing your No. 1 center at the very worst time.

“We have our whole core signed up, and for a lot of guys, for a lot of years,” Preds GM David Poile said, per NHL.com. “I hope we’ve chosen correctly, and I believe we’ve chosen correctly… I think our room is a very close room, so I thought it was in my best interests, and in our team’s best interests, if I could get the bulk of our team locked up for a long time so they could play together for a long time. So here we go.”

There are question marks, to be sure.

How much will Fisher’s leadership be missed?

Can Nick Bonino handle the second-line center role?

And maybe the biggest question of all, can Pekka Rinne keep performing at a high level in goal?

Rinne, who will be 35 by the time next year’s playoffs start, is signed for two more years at a cap hit of $7 million. The past few seasons, he’s battled consistency. But to his credit, he was excellent on the Preds’ run to the final, finishing 14-8 with a .930 save percentage in 22 games.

Still, don’t be surprised if Juuse Saros pushes Rinne for more playing time next season. The 22-year-old may be undersized for a modern netminder, but he managed to post a .923 save percentage in 21 appearances during his rookie campaign.

Given the ages of the two goalies, there’s even the potential for some controversy down the road.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. On good teams, there’s internal competition, and the Predators are a good team that’s hoping to be great.

Assuming everyone’s healthy, Wings will ‘probably’ have to shed salary


The Detroit Red Wings may have to shed some salary to become cap compliant for the 2017-18 season.

“If everybody is healthy when we get to opening day, we’ll probably have to make a move,” GM Ken Holland said, per MLive. “I’m anticipating we’ll be over by a little bit.”

The Wings still have to sign RFA forward Andreas Athanasiou.

From MLive:

The Red Wings’ cap figure stands at about $77.5 million, including $2.56 million of dead space from Stephen Weiss, who was bought out in 2015, and (Johan) Franzen. They could get as much as $3.95 million in cap relief from Franzen, which would take them down to roughly $73.6 million. That doesn’t leave a lot to sign Athanasiou, a restricted free agent, and provide a small cushion to recall a player from the Grand Rapids Griffins as a replacement for someone on short-term IR.

Obviously, it’s not an enviable position that the club finds itself in. The Wings just missed the playoffs for the first time since 1990, and they have a number of aging veterans signed to significant contracts.

But Holland has been loath to tear things down in Detroit.

In fact, the longtime GM went out this summer and signed veteran defenseman Trevor Daley for three years and $9.5 million.

Daley will turn 34 in October.

Looking to make the leap: Vladislav Kamenev


This post is part of Predators Day on PHT…

There are not many, if any, holes to fill on Nashville’s roster. But in the event of an injury to a forward, don’t be surprised if Vladislav Kamenev gets the first call-up this season.

Kamenev, who turns 21 Saturday, was a second-round draft pick in 2014, and he’s coming off another fine year in the AHL. In 70 games for the Milwaukee Admirals, he had 21 goals and 30 assists.

“He’s a big, strong centerman that you can use in all situations,” said Jeff Kealty, the Preds’ chief amateur scout, per NHL.com. “He’s got really good offensive abilities. He plays on the power play. He’s got a really good shot. He’s also going to kill penalties. He can be responsible in his own zone. So he’s really the complete centerman with size that you’re always looking for.”

Related: Nick Bonino is under pressure

Kamenev had hoped to make the leap last season, and he did make his NHL debut in January. Ultimately, though, he only played two games for the Preds, failing to register a point in limited ice time.

“I was told the usual words that they will follow me, so that I continue to work,” he told Russian newspaper Sport-Express about being sent back to Milwaukee. “But to be honest, I’m very glad that I still made my debut in the NHL. I realized that I can play at this level.”

Expect Kamenev to be a motivated player at training camp. Even if he’s sent back to the AHL, he’ll want to show the coaching staff that he’s a worthy call-up.

At his age, and after two years developing in the minors, it’s time to take the next step.

Under Pressure: Nick Bonino


This post is part of Predators Day on PHT…

For two years, Nick Bonino was one of the best bargains in hockey.

Over that time, he won a couple of Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, his best work coming as a third-line center behind superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

On July 1, Bonino cashed in on his success, signing a four-year deal with Nashville, where his cap hit will go from $1.9 million to $4.1 million.

Also expected to increase is his role, from third-line center to second-line center.

“It’s great to be behind (Crosby and Malkin), but at the same time … you want to do more,” the 29-year-old said after signing, per the Tennessean. “That’s just the way it was in (Pittsburgh), and that’s what happens when you have two players like that on the team that are great players. I’m happy for an opportunity.”

It will not be Bonino’s first opportunity to play second-line center in the NHL. His first came in Anaheim behind Ryan Getzlaf. His second was in Vancouver behind Henrik Sedin.

Ultimately, both the Ducks and Canucks chose to trade Bonino in an effort to upgrade the 2C position. Anaheim got Ryan Kesler from Vancouver, and Vancouver got Brandon Sutter from Pittsburgh.

In other words, Bonino has something to prove in Nashville. He’s well-aware that second-line center is no picnic. It comes with tough matchups and minimal shelter from above. It demands both defensive responsibility and offensive production.

Next season, the Predators could start with Ryan Johansen centering the first line, Bonino on the second, and then there’s Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok for the bottom six.

“I think we really are strong down the middle for the first time in a long time,” said GM David Poile, per NHL.com. “This might be as good of a center ice as we’ve ever had.”

It might be, as long as Poile’s right about Bonino’s ability to handle a bigger role.

Otherwise, it may be Sissons or Jarnkrok on the second line, with Bonino back on the third. Because don’t forget, Mike Fisher isn’t an option anymore.

Related: Fisher announces retirement after 17 seasons in NHL