James Reimer

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Thoughts on surging Hurricanes’ OT win vs. Lightning

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Early on in the 2019-20 season, it’s proven difficult to protect leads against the Carolina Hurricanes. Probably because they always have the puck.

Sunday’s eventual 4-3 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning began in a way that feels fitting to a Hurricanes team that’s been haunted by a good news/bad news situation for a while now. The good news is, again, Carolina hogs the biscuit with overflowing greed. The bad news is that their goalies maybe fall asleep a bit as a result. When Sunday’s game was 1-1, the Hurricanes had fired seven shots on goal, while Tyler Johnson beat Petr Mrazek for Tampa Bay’s goal on what was, to that point, the Bolts’ first SOG.

Speaking of shots on goal, the Lightning couldn’t muster a single one during the second period. Overall, Carolina generated 44-13 SOG advantage on Sunday.

Maybe you shouldn’t sit on leads against Carolina?

The difference between the 2018-19 Hurricanes (plus, so far, the 2019-20 version) and the teams that suffered through an interminable playoff drought is that the latest, Rod Brind’Amour-led rendition “finds ways to win games.”

One wouldn’t fault the Hurricanes if they were a little frustrated after the first period of Sunday’s game. Despite generating a 17-11 SOG advantage (and more than doubling Tampa Bay in stats like Corsi For at 35-17) during the first period, the Lightning finished the first 20 minutes with a 3-1 lead.

Carolina kept at it, though, getting a power-play goal in each of the second period (via Erik Haula) and third (Dougie Hamilton) before Jaccob Slavin fired home the overtime game-winner:

The Hurricanes are now 3-0-0 despite falling behind in all of their first three games …

  • Again, Carolina was down 3-1 in the first period, only to roar back against Tampa Bay to win 4-3 in OT on Sunday.
  • The Hurricanes entered the third period of Saturday’s game against the Capitals down 2-0, yet Carolina ended up winning 3-2 in overtime thanks to Jake Gardiner‘s game-winner.
  • During Thursday’s season-opener, Carolina saw a 2-0 lead devolve into a 3-2 deficit against the Habs through the first 40 minutes. A Haula goal sent that contest to overtime, and then Dougie Hamilton potted the shootout-winner.

Much like in that opener, the Hurricanes broke out the “Storm Surge.” At this pace, they might need to pay Justin Williams to be a consultant on celebrations, because they can only lean on the classic cele for so long …

That defense is getting it done

Defensemen have scored the decisive goals in Carolina’s three wins so far: Hamilton for the shootout victory, Gardiner’s sneaky OT goal on Saturday, and Slavin on Sunday night.

That production extends beyond the most clutch moments, too. Hamilton is tied with Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen for the team lead with four points. Slavin has scored two goals so far in this young season, while Hamilton, Gardiner, and Brett Pesce all have one apiece.

Naturally, they’re doing great work in suppressing chances against, as they’ve doubled opponents in the high-danger scoring chances category at even-strength so far at 38-19 (according to Natural Stat Trick).

A great Haula

Gardiner isn’t the only Hurricanes addition who is paying early dividends.

Haula has three goals in as many games, and big ones at that. Ryan Dzingel got his first assist of the season on Sunday. If James Reimer finds his game this season the way Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney did in the nurturing cocoon that is the Hurricanes’ system, then that would make for another shrewd move. Considering how unrelenting Carolina can be at times, would anyone be that surprised if Reimer ends up rejuvenated?

Hogging that puck

Even Jackson Pollock might think that the Hurricanes are heavy on the paint:

via Natural Stat Trick

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Plenty of Hurricanes are under pressure in 2019-20

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes.

Last season, the Hurricanes became a “bunch of jerks.” In 2019-20, they’re now a bunch of people under heightened pressure.

Rather than going with one single person, here are a few of the Hurricanes who must wrestle with heightened expectations next season.

Sebastian Aho: For those who follow how much players get paid, particularly ones who are potential faces of franchises entering the mere beginning of their primes, Aho is a ludicrous steal at $8.454 million per year.

But then, there are those sharks who circle any sports situation that might loosely be termed a “disappointment.” When those sharks smell blood, they usually also seek out the richest targets, even if those players aren’t really at fault for a team’s letdowns. (See: basically Phil Kessel‘s entire stay in Toronto.)

If the Hurricanes falter, don’t be surprised if their newly minted most expensive player ends up being the scapegoat, whether that ends up being fair or not.

… On the other hand, hey, at least Aho’s already got paid.

Justin Faulk: Faulk, on the other hand, enters a contract year with a lot of money that could be earned or lost.

At least, potentially he does. The Hurricanes could also decide to sign the 27-year-old to a contract extension, something that was at least hinted at somewhat recently.

If Faulk enters 2018-19 with his situation unsettled, he’ll enter a year with a lot on the line, though. The free agent market rarely sees quality right-handed defensemen become available before they’re 30, and sometimes teams go the extra 26.2 miles and overpay guys like Tyler Myers. At the same time, injuries can cool the market for a UFA blueliner, as we’ve seemingly seen with the perplexing Jake Gardiner situation.

You don’t even need to look at defensemen to see how much a season can swing how teams view a UFA. Faulk merely needs to look at his former Hurricanes teammate Jeff Skinner, a forward who was traded for precious little in the summer of 2018, only to have such a strong season that he was handed a lengthy contract with a $9M AAV one summer later.

[MORE: Three Questions | 2018-19 in review | X-factor: Hurricanes owner]

Petr Mrazek: Honestly, Mrazek’s under less personal pressure this season than he was in both 2017-18 and 2018-19, years where he was merely trying to prove that he was worthy of maintaining an NHL career, at least one beyond a backup or even third goalie role. Getting two years at a $3.125M AAV represents more stability than Mrazek’s experienced in quite some time.

Still, if the Hurricanes fail this season, don’t be shocked if it’s because the goaltending that finally worked out in 2018-19 reverts back to the problem that kept Carolina out of the playoffs for a decade. A lot of Carolina’s hopes still hinge on Mrazek, and James Reimer, who comes in with a higher cap hit but lower expectations.

Rod Brind’Amour: During his first season behind the bench, the Hurricanes made the playoffs. That’s great, but it also sets a new bar in the eyes of fans and owner Tom Dundon, so a big drop-off might inspire critics to be a bunch of jerks to Brind’Amour.

Whoever is the GM: If too many of the above situations don’t work out, a GM might be tasked with finding fixes — and if Dundon isn’t interested in spending much money to make those fixes, it could require some serious creativity.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Panthers take huge risk on Bobrovsky: 7 years, $70M

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The Florida Panthers just cleaned their hands of the expensive, risky Roberto LuongoJames Reimer in net … only to get even riskier with Sergei Bobrovsky.

With Bobrovsky set to turn 31 on Sept. 20, the Panthers are throwing caution to the wind. They handed Bobrovsky a whopping seven year contract, and that term didn’t really buy them much savings – particularly with Florida’s tax perks in mind – as it’s roundly reported that the cap hit will be $10 million per year. The Panthers didn’t confirm the AAV in their release, but did include that seven-year term; The Athletic’s George Richards ranks among those reporting it at $10M per year.

Richards also notes that this is the richest contract in Panthers’ history, surpassing the $50M Pavel Bure received way back in 1999.

Unfortunately, goalies simply aren’t as easy to forecast as Hall of Fame, speedy snipers. While Bobrovsky is the most prominent goalie to hit UFA status in ages, it doesn’t guarantee the Panthers much.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The most obvious comparable who comes to mind is Carey Price at $10.5M, and while Price enjoyed a relative bounce-back season in 2018-19, his contract remains terrifying for the Montreal Canadiens. The Panthers are rolling the dice in a big way that Bobrovsky will turn out better than Price, but it’s a big gamble. Really, it might be even bigger, as at least Montreal knew more about what they were getting. The Panthers, meanwhile, invest this $70M before Bobrovsky’s stopped a single puck behind their hit-or-miss defense.

None of this is to say that Bobrovsky isn’t good.

He was probably the best goalie in the NHL if you combine his efforts between 2016-17 (fantastic .931 save percentage) and 2017-18 (still strong .921 save percentage). Really, Bob has arguably been the league’s top netminder since the Flyers recklessly traded him to Columbus, if you look at the big picture. Even if that’s off the mark, Bob easily ranks in the top five.

Past accomplishments don’t stop pucks, however, and the aging cure is a concern. It’s also a little worrisome that Bob had an up-and-down 2018-19. While he salvaged his season with a strong finish, Bobrovsky still ended up with a middling .913 save percentage.

The bottom line is that the Panthers are taking a leap of faith. There’s talent there, but it’s dangerous to assume that Bobrovsky will be able to deliver, and it’s important to realize that even the most reliable goalies are … well, not all that reliable. With Florida’s state tax edge, the Panthers have to feel some regret in not dialing down the AAV, especially since they rolled the dice with the seven-year term, the largest they could offer.

Heading into the offseason, it was easier to square away the idea that the Panthers were rolling the dice with Bobrovsky if he was a package deal with fellow blockbuster free agent Artemi Panarin. It turned out that the pals were not a package deal, however, as Panarin is bound for Broadway with the New York Rangers.

Such a thought had to be enticing for Joel Quenneville, not to mention Panthers fans as a whole.

Instead, this is a less certain step forward, although it’s certainly another bold (and expensive) statement that the Panthers aren’t satisfied after suffering through decades of irrelevance. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2015-16, haven’t won a series since that unlikely run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, and have only appeared in the postseason on four occasions since 1996-97.

Betting on Bob to be the difference is extremely risky, but it shows that they’re trying. Goaltending was the biggest hurdle for the Panthers as they failed to take an expected next step in 2018-19, so on paper, they squared that up in a big way.

It just remains to be seen if Bobrovsky is worth anywhere near that much paper.

Trade: Hurricanes acquire Reimer, Darling headed to Florida to be bought out

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James Reimer is now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes and Scott Darling, now a member of the Florida Panthers, will be bought out by his new team after a trade was made on Sunday.

The Panthers also get a 2020 sixth-round pick in the deal and don’t retain any of Reimer’s $3.4 million cap hit. Darling has been put on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out his contract. If unclaimed, that will become official tomorrow.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, get a goalie under contract with both Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney pending unrestricted free agents heading into tomorrow’s free agent frenzy. GM Don Waddell has an insurance policy if they can’t re-sign one or both of the tandem that helped lead the team to the Eastern Conference Final last year.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The deal seems to include some creative finagling between both clubs. As Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports, the Panthers had struggled to move Reimer due to a signing bonus of $2.25 million owed to the goalie next year.

This way, the Panthers won’t owe that cash to Reimer, a move that will net them just over $3 million in savings, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli. They would have spent more buying out Reimer, so it works out.

For Florida, the move appears to pave the way for Sergei Bobrovsky to join the team as early as Monday when the free agency window opens. Roberto Luongo retired last week and with Reimer gone, the Panthers are in need of a starting netminder.

Darling’s buyout, meanwhile, looks like this, per CapFriendly:

2019-20 $1.233M
2020-21 $2.333M
2021-22 $1.183M
2022-23 $1.183M

Darling has been anything by his namesake since joining the Hurricanes from the Chicago Blackhawks on a four-year, $16.6 million deal two summers ago.

His numbers as a backup were outstanding, but as a starter in Carolina, he never finished a season above a .890 save percentage. Things didn’t get much better when he was sent down to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League this past season. The Hurricanes were desperate for a successor to Cam Ward at the time and they took the gamble and lost hard.

Being able to trade him, however, should be looked at as a good thing, especially since they retained none of his salary in the deal.

The Hurricanes have $22 million and a bit of change to head into the free agency window with but that is an artificial figure as they still have to re-sign Sebastian Aho and Gustav Forsling.

As TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports, the Hurricanes are still trying to re-sign Mrazek and have cast a line into Semyon Varlamov‘s camp, as well. Reimer isn’t starting material, but he can be a serviceable backup, with emphasis on the can part.

The Panthers have $25 million to work with some lower-priced restricted free agents to sign to deals. As mentioned above, there’s more than enough room to bring Bob into the fold. Maybe Artemi Panarin too, if they’re lucky.

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.

The Buzzer: Make your Mark

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Three Stars

1. Mark Scheifele

The last time the Winnipeg Jets took off for a huge victory, it was Blake Wheeler who was stealing the headlines with a rousing five-point night. Scheifele wasn’t half-bad on that Friday, either.

On Sunday, the roles were reversed. Wheeler extended his point streak to 10 games, collecting two assists. Scheifele was even better, generating a helper to go with two goals, with one of his tallies being the game-winner.

Scheifele, like Wheeler, often stacks the stat categories, and Sunday was no different. The star-on-a-bargain-contract enjoyed a +3 night, fired four shots on goal, blocked a shot, and went 12-8 in the faceoff circle.

(It would be surprising if Paul Maurice changes the third member of that line anytime soon, as talented young winger Nikolaj Ehlers provided a goal and an assist; his speedy transition game makes this top line horrifying … and oh yeah, the Jets also have Patrik Laine for weaker defenseman and Dustin Byfuglien stomping around as if he realizes that no one can contain him. Gulp.)

2. Joe Pavelski

This is a tough one, because while Pavelski ties Scheifele as the only Sunday scorer to collect three points, it’s inflated a bit by his goal being an empty-netter.

That extra point feels like a fair tiebreaker, though, especially since Pavelski paralleled Aleksander Barkov and others by contributing a strong all-around night. Along with that goal and two assists, Pavelski was +3, generated three SOG, delivered four hits, and blocked four shots while going 9-5 on draws.

People don’t really hammer scorers for failing to get assists in the same way they pick on someone when they haven’t managed their first goal of a season, but it has to be a relief for Pavelski to grab his first two assists of 2018-19. Considering that he’s in an uneasy contract year situation, he – and his agent, and the Sharks – are likely counting these things.

3. Darcy Kuemper

Again, this is a spot where you could argue for Barkov, or maybe Jaroslav Halak, who finished Sunday with only one fewer save (37). How much do you weigh Barkov’s strong overall performance/two goals over Kuemper’s nice work and 38 stops?

To me, Kuemper gets the edge for a few reasons:

  • Kuemper was facing a rested team in Washington, while Arizona was wrapping up a back-to-back following frustrating 4-0 loss to the Penguins on Saturday.
  • That rested team was the Capitals, a squad that can manufacture goals even when it’s playing 50-50 hockey, and even if they are the one dealing with more fatigue.
  • Other goalies with similar stats didn’t face that rest disparity.
  • He likely came into Sunday with fire in his belly, yet low confidence, as he had allowed a total of 13 goals in his past three starts.

Maybe you prefer the work of Barkov or someone else, but you have to admit that Kuemper enjoyed quite the performance.

Highlights

A player as smart and skilled as Barkov can make you pay for a mistake and/or unlucky bounce in a matter of seconds:

The Minnesota Wild are red-hot lately, and Devan Dubnyk usually is at the forefront of their hot streaks. Making saves like these reminds us that he’s one of the better goalies in the NHL during the (rather frequent) spans when he’s on his game:

Lowlight

Former Bruins goalie (prospect) Malcolm Subban will like to forget the first goal of Jeremy Lauzon’s career (which he, of course, will never forget):

Factoids

Hot take: David Pastrnak having 16 goals before we’ve even reached Nov. 16 is quite impressive.

Pavel Bure wasn’t a member of the Panthers all that long, yet he authored some astounding moments in Florida, so Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov flirting with one of his club marks is impressive. Also: scary, since the Panthers also employ that Barkov fellow. Oh, And Vincent Trocheck. And Keith Yandle. And …

Scores

MIN 3 – STL 2
FLA 5 – OTT 1
ARI 4 – WSH 1
WPG 5 – NJD 2
BOS 4 – VGK 1
SJS 3 – CGY 1
COL 4 – EDM 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.