Sebastian Aho

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NHL Power Rankings: Biggest stories of the offseason

With NHL training camps set to begin and the 2019-20 season just around the corner, this week’s NHL Power Rankings will be taking a look back at the biggest storylines of the offseason.

Offer sheets, restricted free agents, a Metropolitan Division arms race, the general manager and coaching carousel in full swing, and even a few oddities.

What were the biggest stories of the summer? To the rankings!

The big stories

1. The rise and fall of Paul Fenton. Simply the most stunning story of the offseason. After one mostly disastrous season in charge of the Minnesota Wild, Fenton was fired this offseason and replaced by Bill Guerin. It’s not just that he was fired after a year, but that the Wild waited until after the draft and free agency to make the move.

2. Sebastian Aho‘s offer sheet. It had been six years since a restricted free agent signed an offer sheet with another team, and it was starting to feel like it was never going to happen again. Then Aho and the Montreal Canadiens actually went through with the process. Only problem was the Canadiens made it a contract that was ridiculously easy for the Carolina Hurricanes to match.

3. Unsigned RFAs. With the start of training camp just days away almost all of the top RFAs remain unsigned. Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Kyle Connor, Charlie McAvoy, Ivan Provorov, Brock Boeser. It is unprecedented to have this many top-tier RFAs still unsigned this late in the summer. Many of these negotiations will continue throughout training camp and the preseason, but how many will spill over to the regular season?

4. Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s IIHF suspension. Three months after a social media video surfaced of Washington Capitals star Evgeny Kuznetsov in a room with white powder on a table, he was handed a four-year suspension by the IIHF due to a positive cocaine test in May. Kuznetsov voluntarily sought help through the NHL’s education and counseling program and is expected to meet with commissioner Gary Bettman before training camp.

5. Metropolitan Division madness. The Devils and Rangers re-ignited their rivalry with big offseasons that saw them land the top two picks in the draft and acquire some big name veterans, the Flyers overhauled their defense and gave Kevin Hayes a ton of money, the Blue Jackets lost several key players, the Penguins traded Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta, and the Hurricanes added to an already outstanding defense.

6. Florida goes all in Bob. The worst kept secret at the start of the summer was Sergei Bobrovsky going to the Florida Panthers. He fills their biggest need and could be the piece they need to get back in the playoffs, especially after hiring Joel Quenneville as head coach in April.

7. The GM and coaching carousel. Decades after he revived the Red Wings as a player, Steve Yzerman returns to Detroit to try and do the same as the general manager. That paved the way for Ken Holland to leave Detroit to try and rebuild the charred remains of the Peter Chiarelli era in Edmonton. Behind the benches, six teams will have new coaches as Quenneville (Florida), Alain Vigneault (Philadelphia), Todd McLellan (Los Angeles), Ralph Krueger (Buffalo), D.J. Smith (Ottawa), Dave Tippett (Edmonton), and Dallas Eakins (Anaheim) get their chances. For many, it is a second (or third) chance behind an NHL bench.

8. Nashville’s big change. The Predators needed another game-breaking forward to help fix a dreadful power play that failed them all year. They hope to have found that in Matt Duchene. To make room for him they had to deal from their depth on defense and dump P.K. Subban‘s salary. Are they a better team with Duchene over Subban? David Poile is taking a big gamble that they are.

9. Ron Francis takes over Seattle. This is going to be a tough job, not only because he is starting an organization from scratch, but because expectations will be almost unreachable given what happened with the Vegas Golden Knights.

10. New rules. Video review is being expanded to cover major and match penalties, as well as goals scored as the result of a hand pass, high stick on the puck, or pucks that should have been whistled for being out of play. There are also some new player safety rules in place. Read all about them here.

The oddities

11. Robin Lehner‘s New York “Rangers” Masterton Trophy. Lehner won the 2018-19 Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player that shows perseverance and dedication to hockey, and gave an inspiring speech at the awards ceremony. When he actually received the physical trophy it had him playing for the New York Rangers. He played the 2018-19 season for the New York Islanders. Fans of those teams do not like being confused for the other.

12. NJ Devil goes through the glass. What was the mascot trying to accomplish? No one knows, but it spoiled a child’s birthday party by running through a giant glass window.

13. Connor McDavid‘s skate lace belt. Not really sure what else to say here, other than when you are the best in the world you can dress however you want.

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14. Phil Kessel’s one-room theatre. After putting his Pittsburgh home on the market, the Internet pounced on a random photo of what looked to be the loneliest movie theatre room in the world … a single desk chair in front of a big screen TV. Kessel said he never actually used the room, it had been empty, and his realtor thought they should put a chair in it to give the feel of a theatre. It was still fun while it lasted.

15. Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s reaction to Keenan Thompson’s Lightning joke. He did not find it amusing (Victor Hedman, however, cracked a smile).

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

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.

Marc Bergevin was ’90 percent sure’ Canadiens were getting Sebastian Aho

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Despite what you may believe, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin was fairly certain that he was going to land Carolina Hurricanes restricted free agent Sebastian Aho over the summer.

When the Canadiens dropped a five-year, $42.270 front-loaded contract on Aho’s lap, he signed it. At the time, many doubted that the Hurricanes wouldn’t match. Bergervin saw things differently.

“You’re never 100 percent sure of anything,” Bergervin told La Presse (quotes have been translated). “But I had conversations with his agent and he had some with the other general manager. We were 90 percent sure (we were going to get Aho). I didn’t just make an offer for the sake of making an offer. We looked at their organization and the way they manage their dollars, so we decided to front-load the first year of the contract. For us, it was a real possibility. We believed it was going to get done.”

We all know how the situation played out. The Hurricanes ended up matching the offer and the Canadiens didn’t end up making a significant move after that.

Could they opt to go after another one of the restricted free agents that still hasn’t signed with their respective teams?

“Anything is possible,” added Bergevin. “But there’s a reason why we haven’t seen another offer sheet this off-season. The contract (demands), the compensation, the salary cap. But in the league, anything’s possible.”

Landing a player like Aho would’ve changed the game for a team like Canadiens, who need some help offensively. The pressure is always “on” in Montreal, but the management staff have to feeling it a little more heading into this season. Last year, they were coming off a dismal season. This year, they’re coming off a year where they didn’t make the playoffs, but they still finished with 96 points and restored a positive feeling around the group.

You’d have to think that, internally, they’re feeling the heat this year. They can’t not make the playoffs, can they? They’ve missed the postseason in back-to-back years and in three of the last four. The last time they made the playoffs (2017), they were eliminated in the first round by the New York Rangers.

Since the Canadiens didn’t make a splash this summer, they’ll have to hope that some of their young players improve significantly if they’re going to make the playoffs. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who had an impressive season as an 18-year-old, will have to take a big step forward offensively. The Canadiens could also use some added production from depth players like Artturi Lehkonen, Joel Armia and Jordan Weal. Jonathan Drouin will have to surpass the 53 points he scored last year, while Max Domi will need to build on his 72-point outburst from one year ago.

Oh, and Carey Price and Shea Weber absolutely need to stay healthy if this team is going to make a dent in the Eastern Conference standings.

It should be an interesting year in Montreal. If they fail to make the playoffs, again, is Bergevin’s job still safe? Would his job security depend on how the team misses the playoffs?

The Habs are never boring.

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

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Canadiens GM not interested in bringing back Andrei Markov

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After spending the past two seasons playing in the KHL, veteran defender Andrei Markov is looking to make a return to the NHL this season.

Markov, 40, is 10 games away from his 1,000th in the NHL and it has been reported that his first preference would be to again play for the Montreal Canadiens, the only team he ever played for in the NHL.

The feeling is apparently not mutual.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin told Canada’s RDS on Saturday that a lot of things have changed since they offered Markov a contract two years ago.

Via the Montreal Gazette:

“Two years ago, his contract was due, we made an offer. Efforts were made to sign it and he chose another direction that was KHL. It was two years ago.

“Since that time, things have changed. The player has aged. The organization has changed direction. We have a lot of young people growing up. I will name them. The (Noah) Juulsen, the (Victor) Mete, the (Josh) Brook … (Alexander) Romanov, who will be here in a year. Then, we really want to give our young people a chance.”

Markov did not have agent at the time of those negotiations, but has since hired Allan Walsh to represent him in his return attempt. Walsh said back in August that at least five teams have checked in and that Markov is willing to play anywhere on what would likely be a one-year deal.

Markov last played for the Canadiens during the 2016-17 season, recording 36 points (six goals, 30 assists) in 62 games. At his peak he was an outstanding player on the Canadiens’ blue line, but had a good chunk of his career wiped out by injury between 2009 and 2012. He was able to bounce back from that by appearing in all but two games between the 2012-13 and 2015-16 seasons. In 990 games he has scored 119 goals to go with 453 assists (572 total points).

The Canadiens’ defense definitely has some flaws in the short-term, but it’s hard to build a convincing argument that a 40-year-old defender two years removed from the NHL would make a significant impact. So Bergevin’s position is certainly understandable.

Overall it has been a quiet offseason for the Canadiens as they are returning mostly the same roster that fell short of the playoffs a year ago. They did make an effort to sign Sebastian Aho as a restricted free agent away from the Montreal Canadiens, but the offer was easily matched.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
Which teams should take chance on Andrei Markov?

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.

Other NHL teams could learn from Hurricanes’ great offseason

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The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t perfect (points to Petr Mrazek and James Reimer), but the rest of the NHL could learn a thing or two from their masterful offseason.

On the heels of signing Jake Gardiner at a surprising discount, let’s take a look at some of the key decisions, and how other GMs and front offices can learn from Carolina’s impressive blend of patience and opportunism.

The biggest job was done for them: While big names like Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, and Brayden Point remain in contract limbo, the Hurricanes have Sebastian Aho locked down at what will almost certainly be a team-friendly rate of $8.454 million per year, all thanks to Marc Bergevin’s perplexingly modest offer sheet.

Hey, sometimes you just get flat-out lucky.

The power of patience: Instead of bidding on free agents on July 1, when asking prices are at their highest, the Hurricanes instead played hard to get, and remarkably found ways to potentially improve in areas of weakness.

It might be strange to view July 12 as exceedingly late, but it must have felt like an eternity for Ryan Dzingel, and the Hurricanes took advantage of a tepid market and that urgency to sign Dzingel for chump change (two years, $3.375M cap hit). Dzingel isn’t perfect, yet he could bring some finishing touch to Carolina, which is noteworthy because while the Hurricanes have a reputation for hogging the puck, they’ve sometimes lacked the sniping skills to put that puck in the net at the same rate as the NHL’s deadliest teams.

Gardiner is the most obvious example of the Hurricanes being patient, as his contract situation somehow lingered into September, and the Hurricanes exploited that for big gains. Gardiner could provide a potential boost to one of the Hurricanes’ other areas of concern, too: the power play.

Striking at the right moment: The Hurricanes weren’t just playing hard to get. Sometimes they seized the moment, and the results were promising.

Carolina wisely took advantage of the Golden Knights’ cap crunch to get Erik Haula for a pittance in a trade. If Haula works out — there are some health concerns — then he’s another forward who could help Carolina score goals, supplementing that sniping alongside Dzingel.

To be continued: It remains to be seen if Carolina was wise in taking on Patrick Marleau’s contract in exchange for a first-round pick.

Either way, the Hurricanes deserve credit for being proactive in trying to identify value, and they really could have set a template for teams like the Red Wings and Senators to accrue assets. (Ottawa and Detroit did not get the memo, at least not yet.)

Valuing flexibility: The Hurricanes could have panicked and overpaid to feel more secure about their goaltending situation, but considering the very limited options on the market beyond Sergei Bobrovsky (and how expensive Bob ended up being), Carolina could have made a big blunder.

Instead, they played it safe, and found a way to move on from the Scott Darling era of errors.

Interestingly, while the Gardiner addition arguably gives Carolina the league’s best defense, it’s not certain that we’re done seeing them make changes. Most pressingly, Justin Faulk is entering a contract year, and the Hurricanes may understandably go the trade route to solve that riddle.

Either way, the Hurricanes are in a position of rare luxury: they can do something there, but they don’t have to. Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane notes when you have to do something, “you’re screwed.” Other NHL teams know that pain all too well.

***

The Hurricanes are on a short list of the smartest NHL teams alongside the Sharks because they consistently find value in a variety of ways. They’re patient when they should be, but not passive, showing the ability to jump on opportunities when other teams might get trigger shy.

Many other NHL teams are so behind the curve that they come across as downright dull, yet the Hurricanes look cutting edge. We’ll see if that pays dividends with more big steps forward in 2019-20, but it’s impressive stuff either way.

(Oh yeah, and their drafting also drew rave reviews. That team is just on fire lately.)

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Aho reveals offer-sheet decision; Ristolainen to Red Wings?

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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.

Sebastian Aho reveals why he signed an offer sheet from the Canadiens. (Sportsnet)

• NHL farm system rankings: Best, worst prospect pipelines for 2019-20, from 1 to 31. (The Sporting News)

• Should the Red Wings trade for Rasmus Ristolainen? (The Hockey Writers)

Matthew Tkachuk‘s agent says they gave the Flames a fair offer back in June. (Sportsnet)

• Overlooked teams in fantasy for 2019-20. (NHL.com)

• The All-Decade Team for all 31 NHL teams. (ESPN)

• Breaking down the format for a potential 2021 World Cup of Hockey. (Sportsnet)

T.J. Oshie is healthy and ready to take another run at the Stanley Cup. (NHL.com)

• When adding staffers, NHL Seattle must navigate complex minefield with those currently under contract elsewhere. (Seattle Times)

• Once healthy, Shea Weber’s value to the Canadiens remained high. (Eyes on the Prize)

• Who are the biggest Penguin killers in the NHL today? (Pensburgh)

• NHL “nowhere near a resolution” on allowing players to compete at 2022 Winter Olympics. (Inside the Games)

• NHL teams as dog breeds: The complete list of hockey dogs. (FanSided)

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


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