Winnipeg Jets

Laine makes interesting comments about future with Jets

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Not long after Kyle Connor probably made Winnipeg Jets fans feel a little less anxious about lingering RFA impasses among two big stars, Patrik Laine had an interview with Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston that could make that discomfort rise to a boil.

At least, depending upon how much you read into things. Overall, I’d say: maybe don’t, although as Laine said, “anything could happen.”

You can see a chunk of the interview in the video above, and note that Laine seems pretty relaxed about the whole thing … but he also didn’t exactly guarantee that he’ll stick with Winnipeg.

“Well you never know. It’s still business, you’ve got to be prepared for anything,” Laine told Johnston on Friday. “But yeah, you never know where you’re going to play next year so I’m just prepared for anything.”

Johnston’s full report is worth reading beyond the video, as it includes additional details. Some are promising (Laine is working on his explosiveness, and aware of criticisms of his play off-the-puck) and unsettling (Laine apparently said contracts talks have been “non-existent”).

Again, it’s probably wise for Winnipeg fans not to get too stressed. Most notably, RFA’s are restricted free agents for a reason: teams exhibit a lot of power over their negotiating options, restricting Laine’s ability to play anywhere else. In the past, that often allowed teams to get huge bargains for second year contracts; Laine’s current teammate Mark Scheifele only carrying a $6.125M cap hit through 2023-24 is a prime example of the savings teams can soak up.

This summer could serve as a turning points where high-profile RFAs see the way NBA players are flexing their negotiating muscles, and getting a little more say in their own paths, or at least not rolling over as easily when it comes to trying to get the maximum dollars they can in this context.

Laine, of course, is far from the only RFA in this situation, and that’s the rub: players are waiting for the first shoe to drop. The Athletic’s Craig Custance provided a fascinating breakdown of the standstill for forwards like Laine as well as defensemen like Charlie McAvoy (sub required), with an anonymous agent making it sound like this is almost a game of chicken: no one wants to blink first, and possibly miss out on more money.

“There is a little of, ‘I don’t want to go first,’” The agent told Custance. “If you’re Rantanen, you’re waiting for Marner. If you’re Marner, you’re waiting for Rantanen. … And you can couple that with, there’s not a ton of urgency right now.”

In Custance’s report, he notes that the Colorado Avalanche haven’t brought offers to Mikko Rantanen, who has discussed his situation with Laine, according to Johnston.

It begs the question: could it be that maybe Laine is nudging the Jets to try to break the ice? Is this interview just a matter of timing, and Laine is merely playing it cool (or even playing “hard to get”?).

Yes, teams are waiting for that new benchmark comparable to be set, possibly in Mitch Marner‘s prominent proceedings with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But if you’re the Jets, maybe you want to at least dip your toes in the water and see if Laine actually wants to just get something done? Winnipeg is particularly justified in wanting to try to skip in line as, again, the Jets must settle things with Laine and Connor. Earlier this week, Connor went as far as to say that he’d prefer a long-term deal with the Jets, yet would also consider something short-term.

If things thawed out with Connor, maybe they could with Laine as well?

Either way, it’s tough to imagine this ending in any way other than the Jets signing both Connor and Laine. The bigger questions likely revolve around key resolutions: how much, and for how long?

Of course, while it’s difficult to imagine Laine not eventually signing with the Jets, it’s also foolish to say that this will necessarily be easy for Winnipeg. Perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from what may ultimately be a harmless — if a bit unsettling — interview.

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 Power Rankings: Bounce-back candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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After looking at the top breakout and regression candidates in our previous offseason PHT Power Rankings, we shift our focus this week to more established players that should be better (and maybe significantly better) than they were a year ago.

Who are among our top-10 bounce-back candidates for the 2019-20 NHL season?

To the rankings!

1. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets. For the majority of NHL players scoring 30 goals in a season would be a huge accomplishment. For Patrik Laine in 2018-19 it was probably a hugee disappointment. He was supposed to challenge Alex Ovechkin for the goal-scoring crown but never really came close to doing so. His season was made by one 12-game hot streak in November where he scored 18 goals, then managed just 12 goals in the other 70 games thanks mostly to an uncharacteristically low 6 percent shooting percentage in those games. That is a fluke and will not last. He is too good, too talented, and has too good of shot for it continue.

2. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. He missed the first quarter of the season due to an extended contract negotiation and never really had a chance to get rolling once he returned. Despite the poor production, there were a lot of positive signs that indicate he can (and will) bounce back. HIs possession numbers were outstanding and he still generated a fair number of shots, he was just crushed by a 5.6 shooting percentage. A fresh start and a full season will do him well.

3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings. There is really no way to sugarcoat Doughty’s 2018-19 season — it was bad. Maybe it was the result of playing on a terrible Kings team that had nothing going for it. Maybe it was the fact he is inching closer to his 30th birthday and reaching a point where he will inevitably start to slow down. Maybe it was just a down year. It was probably a combination of all three. Whatever the case, he had a miserable year as the Kings were absolutely steamrolled when he was on the ice. He is too good and has too much of a track record for that to happen two years in a row.

4. James Neal, Edmonton Oilers. His days as a 35-or 40-goal scorer are probably done but did his career really fall of a cliff that quickly? Scoring 20-25 goals shouldn’t be an unrealistic expectation, and if he manages to do that it will be a nice bounce back season and really help a painfully thin Oilers roster.

[Related: Can James Neal bounce-back after tough year in Calgary?]

5. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. The raw numbers point to a strong season offensively, but there weree a lot of flaws to his game in a lot of areas (5-on-5 and defensively, to be specific). He wasn’t *bad* but he can definitely be a lot better and will no doubt be motivated to show he is still one of the elite players in the league. It is a big year for him in Pittsburgh.

6. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings. Quick has always been a polarizing player because he’s never been as good as his loudest supporters think he is or as bad as his loudest critics think he is. He’s a perfectly fine starting goalie that’s had two amazing playoff runs. That’s it. He’s not an all-time great and he’s not bad. He’s just … good. For some reason that is difficult for people to accept. No matter what side of the Quick argument you fall on you should probably be willing to acknowledge he is not going to repeat the .888 save percentage he finished last season with. He is WAY better than that.

7. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders. There were a lot of shocking things about the Islanders’ turnaround a year ago. One of the more overlooked storylines is that they were able to make the playoffs despite their best and most important returning player — Barzal — regressing almost entirely across the board. After one of the finest rookie seasons we have seen in years, expectations were through the roof for Barzal in year two. He was good, but probably fell short of what was expected of him.

8. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. Benn’s slower than expected start drew the ire of team CEO Jim Lites even though he was still one of the four or five players on the team that actually produced. Still, it wasn’t the typical Jamie Benn season in Dallas. His 0.68 point per game average was the second lowest of his career (only his rookie season was worse) and a sharp decline from what we are used to seeing from him. The fact that is considered a “down” year is a testament to how good he has been. He is not finished as an elite scorer just yet.

9. Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks. During the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons Rakell was one of the best and most overlooked goal-scorers in the league, scoring at a 37-goal pace per 82 games. He was one of the go-to players for the Ducks offensively and looked to be ready for another huge year this past season. But his down year was one of the many things to go wrong in Anaheim as his offensive production plummeted. A lot of the decline was shooting percentage driven and he should be able to recover from that this season.

10. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes. Like Barzal in New York, Keller went through a bit of a sophomore slump for the Coyotes. The good news is he didn’t regress all that much, is still only 21 years old, and has already demonstrated an ability to be a top-line player in the league. If he gets back to the level he was at during his rookie season (or even takes a step forward) it will go a long way toward ending the Coyotes’ playoff drought.

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.

Jets, Lightning still have big RFA challenges to deal with

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This year’s restricted free agent market has been one of the most intriguing ones we have seen in years. Not only is it loaded with players that already among the league’s best, but we already saw an offer-sheet come in when the Montreal Canadiens attempted to snag Sebastien Aho away from the Carolina Hurricanes. It was an offer that was quickly matched by the Hurricanes. As things stand on Saturday, Aho is the only one of those top RFA’s that has a new contract while Mikko Rantanen, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Patrick Laine, Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, Brock Boeser, and Kyle Connor (among others) all remain unsigned, and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future.

Some of these situations will easily get resolved. The Avalanche have more salary cap space than any team in the league and no other significant contracts to work out, so while Rantanen will get a huge pay raise, the Avalanche have more than enough space to work it out. The same is true in Columbus with Werenski where they still have more than $15 million in cap space after their free agent exodus.

Beyond them, most of the focus with the RFA market has been pointed in Toronto’s direction where the Maple Leafs have to re-sign Marner and (hopefully) avoid a repeat of last year’s William Nylander situation. But for as complicated as the Marner contract has been and still might be, the Maple Leafs still have more than $10 million in LTIR contracts to stash at the start of the season with David Clarkson and Nathan Horton.

It is going to be difficult, but it may not even be the most difficult one in the league.

Here are four teams that might have might even more headaches to deal with.

Winnipeg Jets

Good news: The Jets have more salary cap space ($17 million) than all but one team in the league, which would seem to put them in a really good position under the cap.

Bad news: As of Saturday they only have 17 players under contract for the 2019-20 season (no other team in the league has less than 19) and have two major RFA’s in need of new deals in Laine and Connor.

Laine is already one of the NHL’s most lethal goal scorers and is coming off a 30-goal season that was universally considered to be a “down” year for him, while Connor has scored at least 30 goals himself two years in a row. There have only been 17 players to top the 30-goal mark in each of the past two seasons, and the Jets not only have two of them, but they are both in need of new contracts right now.

Unless one (or both) is willing to take a significant discount on their next deal the duo is likely to cost the Jets at least $14 million against the salary cap. Those two deals are going to eat up almost all of their remaining cap space while they still have to fill out a roster around them. Even with some free agent departures this summer the Jets are still in a position where they are going to have to do some juggling to keep their two best young players.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning already had one of the deepest forward groups in the league even before Brayden Point was one of the league’s big breakout stars during the 2018-19 season.

Now that he has joined their core of top-tier players, the time has come to pay him. The Lightning have roughly $5 million in salary cap space this summer, which will obviously not be enough to pay a 22-year-old winger coming off of a 40-goal, 90-point season whose best days are still ahead of him. They will be placing Ryan Callahan on LTIR, giving them another $5 million to work with and that will certainly help in the short-term. Point won’t be a $10 million player, but the Lightning also have an upcoming arbitration situation with Adam Erne and three more significant RFA’s next summer (starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, forward Anthony Cirelli, and defender Mikhail Sergachev). All of that is going to add up, and you have to wonder if it might make a forward like Alex Killorn (four more years at $4.45 million per season) expendable.

Vancouver Canucks

This is an underrated and overlooked nightmare situation. The Canucks three-highest paid players are Loui Eriksson, Tyler Myers, and a 33-year-old Alexander Edler (all making $6 million per year), while they also have around $14 million going to the quartet of Brandon Sutter, Tanner Pearson, Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. A classic case of a bunch of small mistakes adding up to one big headache that hurts a team in trying to keep its stars. They only have $5 million in salary cap space to re-sign Boeser, their second best player and one of the best young snipers in the league. That is not enough. They need to move as many of the aforementioned contracts as they can, not only to help re-sign Boeser this summer, but to improve their long-term outlook as well.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins’ roster is almost entirely set for the 2019-20 season with two big exceptions: Defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The Bruins have roughly $7 million in salary cap space to make it happen, but that is going to be tight. Like Werenski in Columbus, McAvoy has earned a substantial contract extension with his play. Carlo may not be a star, but he is a rock-solid defender that needs re-signed. Together, they might cost at least $10 million. Shedding one of David Backes, Charlie Coyle, Kevan Miller, or John Moore would help.

More NHL Offseason:
Bruins face salary cap juggling act with McAvoy, Carlo
Long-term contracts for depth players is usually losing move for NHL teams
Cap Crunch: Rangers, Penguins, Flames among teams that still need moves

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.

Lightning lead NHL’s best special teams units

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When it’s time for a power play, you’ll usually just see a quick graphic with a team’s percentages. If you’re lucky, the sound crew will play Super Mario’s powering up sound effect when it’s time for a home power play.

Flashing up those percentage stats give you a perfectly fine snapshot, but let’s dig deeper. Now, to clarify, we’ll still keep it pretty simple, as we’ll leave expected goals and high-danger chances to the Natural Stat Tricks of the world (for now? ominous music plays, probably from a Super Mario Bros. castle).

Allow me to re-introduce a stupidly simple study: special teams plus/minus. The formula is pretty simple, even if it takes some manual inputs (risking some human error) to actually put together the crude Google spreadsheets that power this list:

(Power play goals [PPG] forshorthanded goals [SHG] for) – (PPG against + SHG against) = special teams plus minus.

Generally speaking, deeper stats often reinforce what we already know, and this is the case here. What we already know is that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s power play was frighteningly effective, especially last season. Now we … uh, extra know that.

Cream of the crop

To keep this from getting too unwieldy, Part 1 of these two posts will feature the teams who had a “plus” rating for 2017-18 and 2018-19 combined, while Part 2 will include the teams on the negative side. You can see the full results in the chart at the bottom of each post. Interestingly, only 13 teams hit the “plus” side, at least for 2017-18 and 2018-19 combined.

Tampa Bay Lightning: +43 in 2018-19, +51 overall during the past two seasons.

The Lightning made history last season, and their special teams dominance stood as a big reason why. Not only was their power play deadly (74 PPG), it also took very little off the table, as Tampa Bay only allowed three shorthanded goals, behind only three other NHL teams. Remarkably, they tied the Devils for third-fewest power-play goals allowed with 40, and scored an impressive 12 shorthanded goals. The Bolts have the talent to be strong in this area once again in 2019-20, but we may not see many seasons like this one again anytime soon.

Other teams that were at least +20 combined the past two seasons:

  • Florida Panthers: +19 in 2018-19, +26 combined. The Panthers were the only other team to hit 70+ goals alongside Tampa Bay, as the Cats grabbed 72. They flipped shorthanded goals allowed (12) and for (three) with the Lightning, though. The Panthers will need to show that their special teams dominance wasn’t due to power play/assistant coach Paul McFarland, who was fired this offseason. The Panthers were among just five teams with 70+ power-play goals since 2009-10, so a dip should be expected — it’s likely a matter of how much.
  • Winnipeg Jets: +13 in 2018-19, +29 combined the past two seasons. You’d think this will be a consistent strength for Winnipeg, especially as Patrik Laine climbs the ranks … right?
  • San Jose Sharks: +12 in 2018-19, +36 combined. Seems safe to bet on continued competence, if not brilliance, in this area.
  • Colorado Avalanche: +9 in 2018-19, +23 combined. Improved depth could help Colorado after allowing 58 PPG this season.
  • Boston Bruins: +8 in 2018-19, +28 combined. The Bruins power play was deadly (65), but also high-risk, high-reward, with 15 shorthanded goals allowed.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: +9 in 2018-19, +26 combined. Penguins special teams sequences are frantic. Not only are the power play goals going both ways, but the Penguins scored plenty shorthanded (12 for) and allowed even more (15 against) last season.

Still positive, not as dramatic

Teams with at least 10+ (but less than 20+) combined during the past two seasons

  • New Jersey Devils: +5 in 2018-19, +18 combined. Should be fascinating to see how Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban might move New Jersey up the ranks.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs: +1 in 2018-19, +13 combined. Maybe trading away Nazem Kadri means more William Nylander on the top unit? Either way, a middling 46 PPG for and troubling nine SHG against is hard to fathom with all of that talent.
  • Vegas Golden Knights: +4 in 2018-19, +16 combined. Limiting shorthanded goals allowed (two) while scoring 11 shorthanded goals of their own, the Golden Knights were otherwise uninspiring on special teams last season. The Golden Knights have so much forward talent, they might want to experiment a bit; maybe try that whole five forward power play idea?

Remaining teams with positive special teams plus/minus over the past two seasons:

  • Calgary Flames: +14 in 2018-19, +8 combined. The Flames’ power play was rough in 2017-18 (just 16 percent success rate, 43 goals for and seven shorthanded against), accounting for the slip into mediocrity. An absurd 18 shorthanded goals for is what really pushed them into having one of the league’s most beneficial special teams last season, as they only scored three more goals on the power play (53) than they gave up on the penalty kill (50).
  • Minnesota Wild: +6 in 2017-18, +5 combined. Minnesota enjoyed some net benefits from special teams last season, but the difference was fairly marginal.
  • Arizona Coyotes: +15 in 2017-18, +2 combined. Darcy Kuemper was the main reason the Coyotes almost made the playoffs despite a slew of injuries, but effective special teams, particularly managing 16 shorthanded goals, helped Arizona stay in the mix, too. Can Phil Kessel help Arizona make special teams a net positive once again next season? It’s tough to ask Kuemper to repeat last season’s magic, that’s for sure.

Full list

Again, Part 2 will include teams that were in the minus – even marginally so – during the past two seasons combined. Here are the full 31 teams, sorted from highest to lowest in special teams plus/minus for 2018-19. You may note that some teams were positive one season and negative the other, so teams with recent strong seasons (Arizona, Calgary) could be interesting to monitor. The chart also includes: 2017-18 special teams plus/minus, the ST plus/minus for the past two years, and then to the right: goals totals for the four different special teams categories from 2018-19:

TEAM special teams +/- 2017-18 +/- two years +/- PPG SHGA PPGA SHGF
Tampa Bay 43 8 51 74 3 40 12
Florida 19 7 26 72 13 43 3
Arizona 15 -13 2 42 9 34 16
Calgary 14 -6 8 53 7 50 18
Winnipeg 13 16 29 62 7 52 10
San Jose 12 24 36 57 9 45 9
Colorado 9 14 23 63 5 58 9
Boston 8 20 28 65 15 49 7
Pittsburgh 8 18 26 56 15 45 12
Minnesota 6 -1 5 49 4 44 5
Dallas 6 -10 -4 45 2 41 4
Columbus 6 -15 -9 34 6 30 8
New Jersey 5 13 18 45 10 40 10
St. Louis 5 -13 -8 50 7 43 5
Vegas 4 12 16 39 2 44 11
Toronto 1 12 13 46 9 41 5
Carolina 0 -2 -2 44 8 44 8
Buffalo -1 -4 -5 46 9 41 3
Ottawa -3 -17 -20 46 8 45 4
Washington -6 -2 -8 49 5 55 5
Vancouver -6 -10 -16 43 8 48 7
NY Islanders -6 -11 -17 33 1 44 6
NY Rangers -11 5 -6 44 4 58 7
Nashville -12 9 -3 33 8 45 8
Edmonton -12 -20 -32 47 7 62 10
Montreal -14 -15 -29 31 4 46 5
Chicago -16 -8 -24 48 7 63 6
Detroit -17 -13 -30 39 7 56 7
Philadelphia -18 -7 -25 40 11 51 4
Anaheim -24 -2 -26 36 10 55 5
Los Angeles -28 11 -17 35 13 54 4

Yep, the Lightning have been living large on special teams lately.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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: Laine, Connor now in focus in Winnipeg; Clarkson’s long, strange trip

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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.

• Why Jake Gardiner hasn’t signed with a team yet. (Featurd)

• It’s been a long, strange trip for David Clarkson. (Toronto Sun)

• Ken Holland is confident that James Neal can bounce back. We’d hope so. (Sportsnet)

• NHL teams slowly learning lessons about signing aging wingers. (Yahoo Sports)

• Alberta’s premier is happy to avoid debate on a new hockey arena for the Calgary Flames. (National Post)

• Laine, Connor is now the main event in Winnipeg. (Sportsnet)

• A look at officiating in the playoffs, player safety and the failure of accountability. (Last Word on Hockey)

• Unresolved situations around the NHL that could force further trades. (The Athletic)

• Flyers must overachieve to being playoff contenders this year. (Featurd)

• The New York Islanders, and the NHL for that matter, overvalue fourth liners. (Eyes on Isles)

• The Penguins aren’t the only team worried about the salary cap. (TribLive)

• Are the Rangers ready to contend now? (ESPN)

• Is Mitch Marner‘s contract impasses holding up the rest of the NHL? (The Hockey Writers)

• What happens when an NHL team goes for it… every single season. (The Athletic)

• Each Western Conference GM’s best and worst moves. (The Score)


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