2021 NHL Free Agency

Carter Hutton opens up about vision issues, tough Sabres season

Carter Hutton didn’t want to use his vision issues as an excuse for a rough season with the Sabres. Hutton opened up to the Buffalo News’ Lance Lysowski about his struggles with convergence insufficiency, and it’s a fascinating read.

Essentially, Hutton struggled to track pucks thanks to his left eye moving slower than his right. After receiving advice from the Sabres’ staff, Hutton sought out specialists and started to feel back on track by January.

“[Therapy] became part of my daily routine,” Hutton said. “I would do a ton of different eye training and things to get better at that. In the moment it was obviously tough. Now, moving forward, I learned a lot of skills to help improve that area and make my eye strength better and work on stuff. We weren’t sure what it was. It was something I managed throughout the season.”

Interestingly, Hutton told Lysowski that he started to feel back to normal during a tough Jan. 11 outing against the Canucks. (Sometimes results and feelings don’t always match up, huh?)

Hutton cannot pin all struggles on vision problems, but …

Now, Hutton himself didn’t chalk up all of his struggles to vision issues.

Even if you jump past some very difficult months, Hutton merely managed a 6-8-0 record and mediocre .901 save percentage starting with that Canucks loss.

That said, it will be interesting to see how Hutton performs if he puts his vision challenges behind him. Now, sure, the “struggling player will turn things around” story is a trope; we’re merely seeing it drop at a different time because of the pandemic interruption.

Consider this a story to watch heading into 2020-21 nonetheless.

More evidence that NHL teams need to manage goalie fatigue

Broadly speaking, I’ve often wondered: how many NHL players could benefit from, say, LASIK corrective vision surgery? Smart teams turn over every stone to try to get an edge, and there might be jelly in that donut. Incremental improvements can mean quite a bit in hockey.

Hutton’s vision struggles are also a reminder of how things can fall apart rapidly for goalies, in particular. It’s plausible that Hutton became so preoccupied with his vision that other parts of his game faltered. Or, really, when you really struggle (Hutton suffered through a personal 13-game losing streak), then sometimes you feel pressured to do too much.

It’s another testament to managing the person, not just the goalie. And maybe most importantly, managing that person’s workload.

Consider factors that increase the likelihood of developing convergence insufficiency, via Cedars Sinai:

You are mostly likely to notice symptoms of CI when you do close visual work, such as reading. Symptoms are even more likely if you do this for a long period of time. Extreme tiredness (fatigue) also can bring on symptoms.

Sounds like something a goalie might be at risk for, eh? (And also, gulp, bloggers.)

Really, one cannot help but wonder if goalies silently deal with similar vision or eye problems.

We’ve certainly learned of goalies acknowledging the strain that comes with the position, especially when facing bigger workloads. Lightning star Andrei Vasilevskiy admitted he was feeling tired when he made the jump to No. 1 in 2017-18. During the same season, Capitals workhorse Braden Holtby mentioned that his fatigue issues were mental, rather than physical.

Too much time for Hutton to resolve vision and other issues, or just right?

For better and worse, Hutton will get a long break from NHL hockey. As you likely know, it’s possible that the 2020-21 season may begin in December, or possibly even later.

By then, Hutton may be long beyond any vision issue. Even so, he’ll likely need to shake off any rust.

It should also be interesting to compare and contrast Hutton with a goalie who might go the distance during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the break between the end of 2019-20 and the beginning of 2020-21 is compressed as some expect, will Hutton and a few others gain a big edge?

After all, Hutton showed some serious promise as at least a platoon goalie during his time with the Blues. Hutton has one year left on his current contract, so the Sabres have incentive to figure out the best scenario. (Or, you know, maybe they’d trade Hutton?)

Overall, Hutton’s future and how goalies might be affected by all of this turbulence ends up being a lot to take in. You know, sort of like trying to keep track of an extremely fast-moving piece of vulcanized rubber.

MORE: Sabres fans are fed up with losing, and so is Jack Eichel.

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.

Penguins playoff injury updates: Bad news for Bjugstad, good for Guentzel

While the Penguins gear up for a (pandemic-permitting) playoff run, they won’t be able to pencil Nick Bjugstad into their lineup. The Penguins announced that bad news for Bjugstad alongside other injury updates on Wednesday. On the bright side, things are more optimistic for Jake Guentzel.

Penguins playoff injury update presents mixed bag: Bjugstad, Guentzel, and more

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford explained that Bjugstad underwent surgery after a setback in his rehab.

This closes out a miserable 2019-20 season for Bjugstad. Things fell off the rails early when the 27-year-old forward suffered an injury to his core area in October. As Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review explains, Bjugstad tried to play through the issue, only to eventually opt for surgery.

The Penguins announced that this latest procedure involved spinal surgery, and Bjugstad will miss at least eight weeks.

Looking at Bjugstad’s stats almost seems unfair. He only mustered a goal and an assist in his 11 games played, but who knows how healthy he was? It remains to be seen if Bjugstad can rebound in 2020-21; after that, his $4.1 million cap hit will expire.

The Penguins shared other injury news, including an update that is fuzzier but potentially big:

  • When Jake Guentzel required surgery for his injured shoulder just before the new year, it sounded like he could miss serious playoff time. Then the COVID-19 pandemic truly struck North America. While Rutherford didn’t guarantee a Guentzel return, he did sound positive on Wednesday.

“We still have a ways to go before we start playing, so we are optimistic that [Guentzel] will be available to play,” Rutherford said.

Getting an All-Star forward back might soothe some of the Penguins’ irritation at needing to participate in the qualifying round. Some of the irritation.

It will also be interesting to see if defensemen Brian Dumoulin and John Marino are healthy as the resumption of play (tentatively) approaches.

More on the Penguins, and the NHL’s return to play

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.

Long-term outlook for Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs long-term outlook Tavares Marner Matthews Nylander Hyman
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Confession time. When I first started scrolling through the Maple Leafs’ forwards at Cap Friendly, I cringed.

Maybe it’s only natural. When you realize that Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander combine for more than $40M per year, it’s reasonable to feel bewildered for a second or two. That’s basically half of their salary cap.

Yet, if you’re going to invest a ton of money in any hockey area, go with star forwards. And while John Tavares awaits the aging curve at 29, Marner and Matthews are only 22, and Nylander’s merely 23.

While GM Kyle Dubas & Co. didn’t leave unscathed, you could say the Maple Leafs are out of the woods. Or … out of the most treacherous woods?

For a team that is so heavily invested in a few forwards, it’s interesting to see quite a bit of medium-term deals for supporting cast players.

You can’t pin that on Lou Lamoriello, either. Dubas retained Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen before hashing things out with Marner. He traded for a goalie with some term in Jack Campbell. Time will tell if it was wise to invest in an extension for Jake Muzzin, who’s already 31. Pierre Engvall and Justin Holl also received some interesting term.

Some significant “Who else will be a part of the core?” questions remain. Things could also change thanks to the cap uncertainty, not to mention the Seattle expansion draft. Still, a lot of the core is in place, and while it isn’t cheap, it’s quite impressive.

Long-term needs for Maple Leafs

Chalk it up to luck or coincidence, but the Maple Leafs don’t face too many big calls during an upcoming offseason thrown out of balance by COVID-19 fallout.

Further down the line, there are some key calls, though. Frederik Andersen, 30, needs a new contract after 2020-21, while Morgan Rielly, 26, awaits a big raise following 2021-22. The Maple Leafs need to find answers to those long-term (mid-term?) questions down the line.

Speaking of down the line, the Maple Leafs must hope that Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren develop into useful defensemen for them. Defense is a big problem for the Maple Leafs, and while (likely departing) Tyson Barrie disappointed, he also did so at a cheap clip of $2.75M. The Maple Leafs want to improve on defense, yet they don’t have a ton of cash to make such improvements, so it would be crucial to get the most out of two blueliners on entry-level contracts. Their respective developments seem pivotal.

Overall, the Maple Leafs need to squeeze every bit of value out of their robust analytics department.

That means finding useful, cheap players, like they did with Jason Spezza. They’ve burned significant draft capital in trades involving Muzzin and Patrick Marleau over the years, so they’ll need to unearth prospects through a mixture of luck and deft scouting.

Considering monetary limitations, they might also need to get used to saying goodbye to players they like, but don’t need. Would it really be wise to bring back Kyle Clifford, for instance?

Long-term strengths for Maple Leafs

Again, the Maple Leafs boast a formidable foundation of young talent thanks to their big three forwards (plus Tavares).

Frankly, their front office now appears to be a long-term strength, in my eyes. Rather than the mixed messages of old-school (Mike Babcock and Lamoriello) battling with Dubas, there’s now a unified viewpoint. Dubas has his analytics team, and he has his coach in Sheldon Keefe.

A more rigid team might panic with, say, Frederik Andersen. Maybe Dubas will make the right moves there, even if it comes down to going with Campbell and someone else instead?

It’s that kind of thinking that could really help Toronto sustain itself even with pricey top-end players. There’s already some promise, also, in seeing solid scouting. While placing 21st on Scott Wheeler’s Prospect Rankings (sub required) isn’t world-beating stuff, it’s not bad considering how many picks the Buds shipped off in trying to rise to that next level.

Of course, for Dubas & Co. to be a long-term strength, they need to remain in place for some time, and that might hinge on the Maple Leafs making short-term gains. Considering the teams in front of them in the Atlantic, that won’t be easy.

There’s a lot to like for Toronto … but is there enough? We’ll find out — eventually.

MORE ON THE MAPLE LEAFS:

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.

Roman Josi signs eight-year extension with Predators

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It’s been a good month for Swiss hockey players and their bank accounts.

A little over a week after Nico Hischier inked a $50.75 million extension with the Devils, the Predators have signed defenseman Roman Josi to an eight-year deal worth $72.472 million. The contract, which carries a $9.059 million cap hit, kicks in beginning with the 2020-21 NHL season and features $33.75 million in signing bonuses. He’ll also be the owner of the third-highest cap hit among defenseman behind Erik Karlsson ($11.5 million) of the Sharks and the Kings’ Drew Doughty ($11 million).

“Roman Josi is one of the top defensemen in the National Hockey League and our team leader as captain,” said Predators GM David Poile. “As he enters his prime, we look forward to Roman continuing to showcase his elite skills in Smashville and guiding our team in pursuit of the ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup.”

Per Pierre LeBrun, here’s the year-by-year breakdown:

2020-21: $750,000 salary / $11 million signing bonus
2021-22: $750,000 salary / $10 million signing bonus
2022-23: $1 million salary / $8.75 million signing bonus
2023-24: $5 million salary / $4 million signing bonus
2024-25: $9 million salary
2025-26: $8 million salary
2026-27: $7.222 million salary
2027-28: $7 million salary

In 574 career games in Nashville Josi has 98 goals and 361 points. He’s been a regular in the positive possession department (53% Corsi rating since 2014-15).

Josi is now one of seven Predators who are signed through at least the 2023-24 NHL season, joining Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, Viktor Arvidsson, Colton Sissons, and Ryan Ellis.

How much do the Predators value the 29-year-old Josi, who Poile dubbed “our Roger Federer” after naming him captain in Sept. 2017? His deal will include a full no-move clause for the entire length of the contract. The only other time that’s happened was when Pekka Rinne signed a seven-year extension in 2011 and the first four years of the deal featured such trade protection.

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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.