Kyle Connor

McKenzie on Devils-Hischier contract talks, health of Flyers’ Patrick

Hockey insider Bob McKenzie stopped by the NBCSN studio during the first intermission of Devils – Flyers on Tuesday (a 4-0 win for Philadelphia), providing some interesting updates on the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft (Nico Hischier) and Nolan Patrick, who went second that same year.

Devils aim for extension with Hischier

McKenzie brought up some interesting comparables for Hischier, including Arizona Coyotes winger Clayton Keller (eight year extension with $7.15M AAV begins next season) and Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor (signed for seven years, $7.14M AAV this summer). McKenzie explains that, while Hischier might not have reached the same production heights as Connor or Keller when those two had been at their best, Hischier’s all-around game makes up some of the difference.

The Devils have some reason to show some haste. While there might be some sticker shock at being in that $7M stratosphere, Hischier could really drive up his perceived value if he enjoys a huge season with Taylor Hall on his wing. McKenzie wonders if Hischier might even push for a Mikko Rantanen-type deal ($9.2M AAV) if he has a big enough 2019-20.

With Hall in a contract year, the Devils could also get some cost certainty if they hash something out sooner, rather than later.

Of course, McKenzie describes this opportunity as a “platform year” for Hischier, who might benefit from waiting things out.

Migraine issues still fuzzy for Patrick

The Flyers are hoping to have impressive depth down the middle once Patrick can join Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes.

While McKenzie reports that there has been progress – Patrick didn’t travel overseas with the Flyers, but is expected to travel with the team in North America – it sounds like this is still a week-to-week thing for the 21-year-old.

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.

Jets’ turbulent offseason capped with injuries to Little, Beaulieu

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Few teams come into the very beginning of the 2019-20 season quite as bruised and bewildered as the Winnipeg Jets.

After a tough end to last season that included a Round 1 exit, the Jets absorbed body blows that were more than just flesh wounds during the offseason. They waved goodbye to some key players from rental Kevin Hayes to defensive mainstays including Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. Things were bumpy, to say the least, with Patrik Laine, from ambivalent comments about his future, not-so-kind comments about linemates such as Bryan Little, and finally a very short-term truce with the team via a two-year deal. There was also uncertainty with Kyle Connor until he signed a lengthy pact. If that wasn’t all enough, Dustin Byfuglien is contemplating retirement, and didn’t exactly give the Jets a ton of notice about what’s either a soul-searching sojourn or the end of a truly unique NHL career.

After all the corny (yet inevitable) “day off” jokes that once followed GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, one couldn’t blame the executive if he felt both relieved and exhausted as the season merely begins.

Unfortunately, the hits kept coming in the final days of an offseason that rarely felt like time off.

The Jets provided two unfortunate bits of injury news on Tuesday, as the team announced that Little is out indefinitely with a concussion, while defenseman Nathan Beaulieu is IR-bound with an upper-body injury that’s expected to sideline him for about four weeks. Both injuries happened during what ended up being a very costly 4-1 preseason win against the Minnesota Wild.

(This Luke Kunin hit injured Little, and Scott Billeck reports for the Winnipeg Sun that head coach Paul Maurice was understandably unhappy about it.)

All of these injuries, free agent losses, and Byfuglien-sized curveballs create some massive craters in the Jets’ lineup, which is troubling since Winnipeg looked so wobbly at times last season, even with the likes of Trouba in the mix. Money Puck’s month-to-month expected goals chart presented their plummeting play in a dramatic way:

Some of those months were without Byfuglien, but again, with Trouba. Taking Ben Chiarot and Beaulieu out of an already troubled group slices up that defense even more.

Meanwhile, the Little injury stacks the deck against Maurice and the Jets, too.

The team shared line rushes that would include Andrew Copp as a second-line center, with Adam Lowry possibly as the 3C.

That doesn’t inspire the highest level of confidence, although maybe this is a time where Maurice should be more willing to experiment. While this would be out of necessity, you never know when you might find different things that work, possibly giving you a Plan B (to Z!) for when matchups become tougher during playoff skirmishes.

What if Jack Roslovic could thrive in a 2C or 3C role? Is it possible that breaking up Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele could benefit the likes of Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers? Considering his traditionally impressive possession stats, would Mathieu Perreault be worth a look at one of those center spots, too?

It’s possible that none of those alignments would be optimal, but you don’t need to look too hard to see that these aren’t the most optimal times for the Jets.

Again, though, sometimes bigger challenges bring out the best in players. In the past, it might have felt like the Jets had a luxurious surplus of talent, maybe allowing some to believe – consciously or subconsciously – that they could “flip the switch” and turn things around, even with red flags waving.

Under the current circumstances, they’re going to depend on not just Scheifele and Wheeler, but also Laine, Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, and Connor Hellebuyck. Without pressure, you can’t get diamonds, and so maybe that thought will serve as the Jets’ silver lining.

Because, frankly, there are some uncomfortable forces bearing down on them as the season begins.

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.

Big winners of the NHL’s restricted free agent signing period

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With Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Mikko Rantanen all signing new contract extensions this weekend, the NHL’s summer-long restricted free agency drama has come to a mostly anticlimactic end.

All the top players stayed where they were supposed to stay, nobody unexpected ended up getting traded, no additional offer sheets were actually signed, and the only big development was the shift by players to opt for shorter-term bridge deals instead of max long-term contracts.

Now that everyone is signed for the start of the 2019-20 season (which starts Wednesday night with Blues-Caps at 7 pm on NBCSN), let’s take a look at some of the big winners from the RFA signing period.

Teams that won big

Tampa Bay Lightning. Brayden Point‘s three-year deal is a massive short-term win for the Lightning. They entered the offseason facing a salary cap crunch but still managed to get one of their top players — Point — re-signed without really having to do anything significant to the rest of the roster. At a salary cap hit of just a little more than $6 million per season for the next three years the Lightning have a steal in Point given the way he blends elite offense and Selke caliber defense. Having a core player that good, signed for that cheap, is a huge advantage to a contender whose championship window remains wide open.

Boston Bruins. This looked like it was going to be a tricky situation for Don Sweeney at the beginning of the summer as he had to try to re-sign top defenders Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, as well as forward Danton Heinen, all while having limited wiggle room under the cap. He managed to get all three players signed for a combined cap hit of under $11 million per season. Not bad. McAvoy should have a monster contract coming his way when his current deal ends, but a lot current money will be off the books by then.

San Jose Sharks. Timo Meier‘s contract (four years, $24 million) was the big one this summer and looks like a perfectly fair deal for both sides. Meier very well could end up outperforming that deal before it’s done, but he will still be young enough to secure another significant contract. But getting Kevin Labanc signed for just $1 million for this season after his 17-goal, 56-point season was a really nice bonus for the Sharks. He is betting on himself, but in the short-term the Sharks are getting a huge advantage this season with some additional cap flexibility as they try to get Joe Thornton his Stanley Cup ring.

Carolina Hurricanes. They won at the very beginning of the summer when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet. The Hurricanes easily matched it, got their franchise player signed, and the whole process helped them to avoid all of the drama and stress that every other team had to deal with in trying to negotiate a deal. That is a win.

Players that won big

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs. He managed to get a six-year deal out of the Maple Leafs that averages just under $11 million per year. The breakdown of the contract will pay him $41 million over the first three years, including $31 million in the first two years and $16 million this season. It is, by far, the biggest of all the RFA deals signed this summer and when compared to the deals signed by Point and Rantanen (two players that are not only similar to him, but maybe even better) it is a huge win for him to get pretty much exactly what he wanted.

Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers. Provorov has No. 1 defender potential and the Flyers definitely treat him like a No. 1 defender, but he has not yet consistently played at a level to justify all of that. Despite that, he still managed to get a six-year, $40.5 million contract this summer. That is significantly larger than the deals signed by McAvoy and Zach Werenski (Columbus), both of whom are probably already better than Provorov. If he becomes the player the Flyers think he can be, it will be a fine contract. But he has to become that player first.

Jacob Trouba, New York Rangers. He managed to get out of Winnipeg (something that seemed inevitable for a couple of years now) thanks to a trade to the New York Rangers where he signed a huge seven-year, $56 million contract, complete with a no-move clause and trade protections. Of the major RFA defenders this offseason (Trouba, McAvoy, Provorov, Zach Werenski) this is by far the biggest contract signed. That $8 million per year cap hit is also tied for the fifth largest among all defenders in the NHL. Is he that good? Trouba is a fine player and will make the Rangers’ defense better, but that is a huge investment in a player that is probably best suited to be a No. 2 defender on a contending team. Risky move for the Rangers, but a huge win for the player across the board.

More RFA signing news:
Jets lock up Connor with seven-year contract
Avalanche avoid breaking bank with Rantanen’s contract
Jets come to short-term agreement with Laine

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.

Jets lock up Kyle Connor with seven-year extension

Within the span of two days the Winnipeg Jets resolved their restricted free agent issues and will enter the 2019-20 NHL season with a complete roster.

Kyle Connor agreed to a seven-year, $50 million contract on Saturday evening, only a few hours after Mikko Rantanen and the Colorado Avalanche ended their standoff. The deal, which carries a $7.14 million and change AAV, features a 10-team no-trade clause in the final two years of Connor’s deal, per Craig Custance.

Connor, 22, was never going to take a bridge deal like Patrik Laine agreed to on Friday as a long-term deal was always his aim. Following a pair of 30-plus goal seasons he cashes in with a contract that will take him to age 29.

Suddenly, what was looking like a potentially dreary beginning for the season for the Jets has brightened a little bit. There’s still plenty to improve upon from last season for Paul Maurice’s charges, but having two of their better offensive weapons under contract and in the lineup when they kick things off Thursday night in New York City against the Rangers is a good way to start.

Per Cap Friendly, the Jets now have $7.7 million of cap space following the Connor and Laine deals. There’s still the unresolved future of Dustin Byfuglien, who carries a $7.6 million cap hit. That would make things very interesting for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff should Big Buff decide to play.

Who would have guessed with all the big name RFAs this summer that Jesse Puljujarvi, who’s likely to spend the season in Finland, and Julius Honka would be the last notable ones standing? The Dallas Stars defensemen is awaiting a trade out of town after the player and then team same to the conclusion it would be the best for both sides. That was two weeks ago and there’s still no resolution in sight with the season days away.

MORE RFA COVERAGE:
Avs avoid breaking the bank with Rantanen’s six-year deal
Examining Avs’ salary cap, Stanley cup window after signing Rantanen
Jets come to short agreement with Patrik Laine
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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.

Jets come to short agreement with Patrik Laine

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Apparently Mark Letestu eating mustard on the bench isn’t the biggest Winnipeg Jets-related news of the week. The team came to terms on a deal with star winger Patrik Laine on Friday, signing him to a two-year deal that carries a $6.75 million AAV.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun indicates that the two sides had been batting around different two-year arrangements for at least one week.

A two-year deal with Laine is interesting because he’ll remain an RFA once this is up after 2020-21. The Jets aren’t out of the woods when it comes to RFAs just yet, as Kyle Connor remains a prominent one, but this is a pretty nice break for Winnipeg in the short term. Laine gets to prove himself, but a $6.75M cap hit is team-friendly … for now.

(For what it’s worth, the price tag is high by some estimations.)

The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports the structure as such:

Young players often get an unfair reputation for being all-offense, no-defense, yet that label might be somewhat fair for Laine. The 21-year-old scored 30 goals and 50 points last season, and had 44 goals and 70 points in 2017-18, yet some of his work is offset by all-around struggles. Evolving Hockey’s multiple-season RAPM chart captures a winger who sometimes gives off an “all-or-nothing” feel:

 

Still, goals are valuable, and Laine could easily be worth more than $6.75M per year if he rounds out his game. That also would make his next contract a potential bombshell.

Connor isn’t the only noteworthy RFA who still needs a new contract. Mikko Rantanen could end up with a whopper of a deal with the Colorado Avalanche, while Julius Honka has a very different, interesting situation trying to solidify his career with (or without) the Dallas Stars.

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.