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PHT Morning Skate: Odjick helped Ferland’s NHL journey; First-line Loui Eriksson?

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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.

• Ferland’s journey to NHL was helped by Canucks legend Gino Odjick. (Daily Hive)

• With his ELC signed, what bonuses will Jack Hughes hit this coming season. (All About the Jersey)

• The Jesse Puljujarvi conundrum. (Edmonton Journal)

• Should Loui Eriksson play on the first line? (The Canuck Way)

• Penguins forced to trade Kessel so they could keep Malkin. (The Hockey Writers)

• Each team’s best contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• 11-year-old Blue Jackets fan does the Bottle Cap Challenge, impresses players. (NHL.com)

David Backes is wanted. (Boston Hockey Now)

• Disgraced defenseman Slava Voynov to play in the KHL next season. (YardBarker)

• How Blackhawks prospect Reese Johnson overcame multiple surgeries to get his NHL chance. (The Athletic)

• Re-visiting the disastrous Jaromir Jagr trade. (The Hockey Writers)

• Keeping the New York Rangers in perspective. (Blue Line Station)

• Golden Knights hold inaugural “battle-worn” gear sale. (Las Vegas Journal-Review)

• Putting stigma in the penalty box. (Kenora Online)

• An early look into the 2020 UFA Class. (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

NHL Free Agency: Three signings that will be looked back on with regret

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Every summer we see a few of these: free agent signings where it becomes immediately apparent that they’re going to hurt the team in the long run.

Some teams sign out of desperation. General managers facing increasing pressures to win, be it from not making the playoffs in the previous outing or getting bounced early on if they did, go out and try to find players who will make their teams better in an attempt to prolong their own tenure.

Others feel the need to expedite a rebuild or perhaps are getting a nudge from the man sitting in the corner office with the nicest view in the house; owners who are greedy and impatient with the slow, methodical process it takes to build a long-term contender.

Whatever the case, some players get signed to seemingly egregious pacts that appear asinine to everyone else.

Here are potentially three of those that have been agreed upon so far this summer.

3. Brandon Tanev, Pittsburgh Penguins

It’s not necessarily the money here that is shocking — it’s silly season in the NHL, of course.

No. It’s the term.

Six years (and $21 million) for a player who hits a lot of people and was propped up in a big way by his linemates seems excessive. Sure, Tanev can be an effective player when put in the right situation. He’s a pretty good penalty killer. But the running joke in Winnipeg was that you could take away Tanev’s stick and you’d probably wouldn’t see much drop off in his play.

Now, Tanev isn’t going to score 14 goals and assist on 15 others without his twig, but the sentiment is he wouldn’t have had as good a year as he did without guys like Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp carrying him in the offensive zone.

Tanev w/ Lowry, Copp – 58.27 CF%
Tanev w/ Lowry – 52.74 CF%
Tanev w/o Lowry, Copp – 38.08 CF%
Tanev w/o Lowry – 41.49 CF%

Tanev is an exciting player to watch. In of world where gas tanks empty and must be re-filled, he’s the self-recharging electric car that laughs at those with fuel caps. He’s an Energizer bunny who goes and goes and goes.

He’ll block shots and hit everything that moves (and sometimes things that don’t.) But if the right folks aren’t beside him, his effectiveness on the scoresheet (and the data ones, too) will be limited.

Six years is a long time.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

2. Tyler Myers, Vancouver Canucks

At one point, this was looking much, much worse.

Some reports suggested that Canucks GM Jim Benning was ready to give Myers eight years and $56 million to wear the blue and green threads sporting a killer whale bursting out of the letter ‘C’.

That crisis was averted, but they still gave Myers five years and $6 million per season, at least going by the analytics, what appears to be a third-pairing defenseman with offensive upside and defensive deficiencies in his own zone. Myers is a defenseman, so that last bit is concerning, to say the least.

Myers is one of those buys at the deadline by a GM feeling the squeeze from upstairs and a squeeze from the fanbase who want a team back in the playoffs.

Again, people with an affinity for math and hockey have painted a not-very-good picture of Myers for that kind of money. A “defensively weak” defenseman is not something teams long for.

And the Canucks are in the middle of a rebuild, one where they already traded off a first-round pick for J.T. Miller and where they’re spending a lot of money to try and get good now even though they have big contracts to come, including this summer, where they have to figure out how to pay restricted free agent Brock Boeser more money than they have cap room at the moment.

You had one job…

1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers

The Panthers sometimes seem like the NHL’s version of a retirement home.

The accommodations are very nice, the weather is great and your breakfast is served by a man wearing a tuxedo. It’s all very wealthy and all very relaxing. And goalies seem to like it, good ones in years gone by that come to see out their playing days in the lap of luxury.

Ed Belfour, Tim Thomas, Roberto Luongo and now Bob, to name a few.

There’s no doubt that Vezina-winning, free agent goaltenders command a lot of money in free agency. So it was no surprise when Bobrovsky got $10 million per season for the next seven. He’s an effective goalie when he wants to be.

Big-name goalies coming close to restricted and/or unrestricted free agency jumped for joy when Dale Tallon signed this monster deal. So did Panthers fans. And they should. At the moment, they have a legitimate goaltender who should lead them to the playoffs.

But for how long?

Bob is 30. While goalies age well at times, Bob has played a lot of hockey over the past three years (and has a nice .922 save percentage to show for it). But will he be a $10 million goaltender in Year 3 of the deal? What about Year 5?

That’s a big chunk of change for a team that seems to have drafted well and will need cash for those players down the line.

Bob is a great goalie. His new contract, however, comes with an untraversed mountain of risk.

MORE: Most long-term contracts will end in trade or buyout

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

Playoff-desperate Canucks sign Micheal Ferland

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In a vacuum, the Vancouver Canucks signing brawny-yet-reasonably-skilled forward Micheal Ferland is perfectly sensible, as TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that the four-year deal carries a $3.5 million cap hit (so it would total $14M). As with most free agent signings, Ferland carries risks, but those worries are soothed by a manageable price and term.

Unfortunately, when you examine the overall contents of this Canucks’ roster and offseason, it looks like GM Jim Benning is making a real mess. Will Ferland be enough to freshen this group up for a truly credible playoff run? The bigger picture is fuzzy, at best.

***

When you consider some of the worst gambles in NHL free agency, it’s crucial to realize that the people making the moves aren’t thinking about how those contracts will look in a few years. The teams they’re running are probably lucky if they’re even thinking about tomorrow.

So far, this offseason continues the Canucks’ baffling pattern of mostly-shrewd work in drafts, followed by reckless free agent spending sprees that light a lot of that draft-weekend goodwill on fire.

During the 2018 offseason, Jim Benning spent as if the Canucks were a team on the cusp of a playoff push, and even then, it was tough to defend a combined $6M cap hit for marginal veterans Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel. If you saw even a portion of the Canucks’ 2018-19 season, you’ll recall that they were quite far from the cusp, let alone a Stanley Cup.

And, while Ferland’s a respectable (if imperfect) investment, the bigger picture of the 2019 offseason is that Benning isn’t really learning lessons. Or, perhaps even worse, Benning just doesn’t care, because he’s panicking with his job on the line. The Canucks’ buddies in Edmonton can tell them all about how difficult it is to clean up after a GM who’s just sort of throwing money at everything, sometimes seemingly blindfolded.

The Tyler Myers contract smells so much like the defensive version of the Loui Eriksson debacle, it even shares the same frightening $6M AAV.

It’s questionable enough handing a $6M cap hit to Alex Edler for a mere two years, but Myers received five. If the Canucks are wrong in rolling their eyes at the many people warning that Myers simply isn’t very good, then they’re stuck with another Eriksson-type contract.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Benning’s strange calls mean that the Canucks are stuck with Myers, Beagle, and Roussel for a combined $12M, and for a troubling stretch of time. Again, those contracts don’t just look bad down the line; it’s doubtful that trio is worth anywhere near $12M in 2019-20 alone. Not good.

To reiterate: the Ferland bet is one of the most reasonable risks Benning’s taken in free agency, but there is some risk involved. Injuries were an issue for him during the Carolina Hurricanes’ push through the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and may have factored in him lingering on the free agent market until July 10. It’s also fair to bring up just how great his linemates have been, likely inflating his value:

But that affordable $3.5M cap hit does lower the stakes quite a bit.

If you must add “heavy hockey” to your mix, at least Ferland fits that bill while actually possessing some skill. Ferland is coming off of consecutive 40-point seasons, and hit 21 goals in 2017-18. There are certain analytics markers that indicate that he can at least keep up somewhat well in the modern game, despite being a big body, such as CJ Turtoro’s visualizations of Corey Sznajder’s zone entry and exit data:

Personally, I’d rather target quicker players to keep up with the increasingly speedy modern game, or perhaps even see if Jake Gardiner could be had at a cheaper rate, but there are far worse bets than Ferland.

Sadly for Canucks fans, Benning has made plenty of bad bets, and with Boeser still in need of a new contract as an RFA, Benning still has some crucial calls to make during this summer.

Here’s a sobering question: when you scan the Canucks’ Cap Friendly page and other roster outlooks, do the Canucks strike you as a playoff team? Were they really a Ferland away from giving themselves a strong chance to make it into the postseason, and have a credible opportunity to make waves if they got that far?

From Benning’s perspective, the goal seems to be to survive. If enough of these moves go sideways, the Canucks might not have the greatest odds to thrive, though.

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.

NHL Free agency: Most long-term contracts will end in trade or buyout

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Exactly six years ago Friday, the Toronto Maple Leafs made one of the most infamous free agent signings in the salary cap era when they inked David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million contract. It was a dubious signing from the very beginning due to Clarkson’s age (he was already 29 years old) and lack of consistent, top-line production in the NHL. Adding to the absurdity was the reception of the contract in Toronto (comparing him to Wendel Clark) and the way then-general manager Dave Nonis defended the signing from any and all criticism by saying, “I’m not worried about six or seven right now. I’m worried about one. And year one, I know we’re going to have a very good player. I believe that he’s got a lot of good years left in him.”

How did that work out?

In year one Clarkson scored five goals in 60 games, was a colossal bust, and was then traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets halfway through year two of the contract for Nathan Horton, another free agent bust from the same offseason whose career would be derailed and ultimately ended by injury. The Maple Leafs knew Horton would never play again and the whole trade was nothing more than a way to shed an albatross contract that looked to be a mistake from the start. It was an obvious — and ultimately legal — circumvention of the league’s salary cap.

Clarkson’s contract is far from the only one that has gotten general managers in trouble for signing a player for too many years in free agency. Almost every time the justification is similar to the one Nonis gave for the Clarkson signing: We’re not worried about four or five years, we just want to win right now.

Most of them never win “right now,” and almost all of them are looking for a way out within two years.

Between the summers of 2009 and 2016 there were 35 unrestricted free agents signed to contracts of five years or longer.

What sort of return did teams get on those investments?

Let’s start with this, showing the result of each signing.

[Related: PHT 2019 Free Agent Signing Tracker]

This only includes players that actually changed teams as UFA’s. It does not include re-signings of players still under contract with their current team (contract extensions), or the re-signing of restricted free agents.

• Fourteen of the 35 players were traded before the end of their contract term. That includes nine players that were traded before completing three full seasons with their new team. Most of these trades were salary dumps or an exchange of undesirable contracts.

• Ten of the contracts ended in a buyout, usually after three or four seasons.

• There are only three players signed during this time period that are still playing out their contracts with their current teams: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in Minnesota, and Michael Frolik with the Calgary Flames. The latter has been mentioned in trade rumors for more than a year now.

• Only four players played out the entire term with the team that signed them: Paul Martin with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Anton Stralman with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brian Gionta with the Montreal Canadiens, and Dan Hamhuis with the Vancouver Canucks.

• Three players had their careers ended by injury before the duration of the contract: Marian Hossa with the Chicago Blackhawks, Ryane Clowe with the New Jersey Devils, and Mattias Ohlund with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

• On average, those 35 players played out just 57 percent of their contract term with the team that signed them. Fourteen of them played out only half of the contract or less.

• If you want to go with the “I don’t care what happens in six years as long as we win the Stanley Cup with this player” argument, the only players in the above sampling that actually won a Stanley Cup with the team that signed them during their contract were Hossa in Chicago and Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik in Washington. The only others to even play in the Stanley Cup Final were Anton Stralman, Valtteri Filpulla, and Matt Carle in Tampa Bay, and Brad Richards with the New York Rangers (he was bought out the following summer after three years of a 10-year contract).

What did teams learn from this sampling?

Mostly nothing, because they have kept doing it.

Between the 2016 and 2018 offseasons there were 13 UFA contracts of five years or more signed, and the early returns are already looking disastrous.

In the summer of 2016 the following deals were signed.

  • David Backes to the Boston Bruins for five years at $6 million per year
  • Kyle Okposo to the Buffalo Sabres for seven years at $6 million per year
  • Frans Nielsen to the Detroit Red Wings for six years at $5.25 million per year
  • Milan Lucic to the Edmonton Oilers for seven years at $6 million per year
  • Loui Eriksson to the Vancouver Canucks for six years at $5.5 million per year
  • James Reimer to the Florida Panthers for five years at $3.4 million per year
  • Andrew Ladd to the New York Islanders for seven years at $5.5 million per year

Not sure there is anybody that would look at any of those contracts just three years later and argue that any of those teams are getting what they hoped to get. Reimer has already been traded so the Panthers could give another long-term deal to a different goalie (Sergei Bobrovsky) this offseason, while the rest of the contracts have all quickly become an albatross for every team that signed them.

There were six contracts signed over the 2017 and 2018 offseasons with Alexander Radulov, Karl Alzner, John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, Jack Johnson, and John Moore all getting contracts of five years or more.

So far the Radulov and Tavares contracts look to be the best investments and have provided the most return.

Alzner spent time in the AHL this past season, while Johnson has been the subject of trade rumors after just one season in Pittsburgh.

This offseason seven teams have decided to bet against history and take their chances on long-term deals.

  • Vancouver signed Tyler Myers to a five-year contract
  • New York signed Artemi Panarin to a seven-year contract
  • Florida signed Bobrovsky to a seven-year contract
  • Pittsburgh signed Brandon Tanev to a six-year contract
  • Nashville signed Matt Duchene to a seven-year contract
  • New York Islanders re-signed Anders Lee to a seven-year contract

History suggests that probably at least five of these players will be playing for a different team within two or three years.

The players that have had the highest chances of playing out most of their contract are the high-end players (first-or second-line forwards; top-pairing defenders) that are still reasonably close to the prime of their careers, so that might be good news for the Rangers and Panarin and maybe — emphasis maybe — Duchene and the Predators.

All of the rest? These look like textbook deals that are destined to end in a salary dump trade or a buyout within a couple of years.

If a player makes it to unrestricted free agency you should know what you are bidding on and adjust your expectations accordingly. It is usually a player that has almost certainly already played their most productive hockey in the NHL, and it is usually a player that their former team didn’t feel was worth the money or term they were going to be able to get on the open market. It is rare that a team allows a player it actually wants to re-sign and values make it to free agency.

Elite players like Tavares and Panarin are the exception.

The end result is a bidding war for a declining player that probably isn’t as good as you think, which then ultimately leads to a team paying a player to NOT play for them (buyout), or trading them for another player another team doesn’t want, or giving up a more valuable asset to entice a team to take your bad contract in a trade.

NHL Free agency: Sometimes the best way to win is to not play.

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.

Best remaining free agents heading into Day 2

Most of the best players that were available heading into the start of free agency have been scooped up. The New York Rangers were able to land Artemi Panarin, the Florida Panthers managed to snag Sergei Bobrovsky, Anders Lee decided to return to the New York Islanders, Joe Pavelski moved on from San Jose to Dallas, and Tyler Myers decided to join the Vancouver Canucks. But what’s left for the teams that are still looking to make a significant move?

Here’s who’s still available:

Jake Gardiner – D: Gardiner came into free agency as the best puck-moving defenseman available on the market, but either the offers didn’t come in like he would’ve hoped or he just wants to take his time making a decision on his next team. Teams may also be concerned about his back issues. The 28-year-old had three goals and 30 points in 62 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. Don’t be surprised if he earns somewhere between $6 million and $7 million on his next deal.

Marcus Johansson – W: Johansson proved to be a valuable trade deadline acquisition for the Boston Bruins. The 28-year-old put up 13 goals and 30 points in 58 games with New Jersey and Boston. He then added 11 points in 22 games during the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. Johansson can play up and down in the lineup, but his injury history may be concerning for some teams.

Ryan Dzingel – W: Dzingel scored 26 goals and 56 points in 78 games with Ottawa and Columbus. 22 of those goals were scored with the Senators, but he had a difficult time adjusting to the Blue Jackets after they acquired him near the trade deadline. The 27-year-old is fast and he can score. The big question is whether or not he can surpass the 25-goal mark again in the near future.

Micheal Ferland – W: Ferland turned down a big extension from the Carolina Hurricanes during the season and it might end up costing him some money in the end. He’s one of the few big bodies on the market that can put the puck in the net. Ferland scored 17 goals and 40 points in 71 games with the ‘Canes in 2018-19.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Ben Hutton – D: Hutton became a free agent after the Vancouver Canucks decided not to give him a qualifying offer this offseason. The 26-year-old played big minutes last season, as he averaged 22:21 of ice time. He could be a quality depth defenseman on the right team.

Patrick Maroon – W: Maroon became a feel-good story for his hometown team, the St. Louis Blues. Not only was he able to win a Stanley Cup this year, he also managed to score some key goals along the way. It appears as though his positive season put him out of St. Louis’ price range, which means he’ll be looking for some added commitment. The 31-year-old scored 10 goals and 28 points in 74 games last season. The fact that he’s a big body means that he’ll probably get decent offers.

Brian Boyle – C: Boyle will provide his next team with size, hockey smarts and a strong veteran presence. He’s also useful as a net-front presence on the power play and he’s also a capable penalty-killer. The 34-year-old has played for five teams over the last three season, but that’s mostly because every team could use a veteran presence like him on their roster.

Derick Brassard – C: Brassard isn’t as much of an offensive threat as he once was, but he can still be a useful depth scorer on a good team. The 31-year-old had 14 goals and just 23 points in 70 games with Colorado, Florida and Pittsburgh last season. He’ll probably have to settle for a short contract with a low AAV this summer.

Justin Williams – W: The 37-year-old was a valuable leader for a young Carolina Hurricanes squad that made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final. Williams finished the regular season with 23 goals and 53 points in 82 games. The veteran probably wants to return to Carolina, but he’ll likely listen to offers from various teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

Joe Thornton – C: You know all there is to know about Jumbo Joe. He isn’t as much of an offensive force as he once was, but he’s still fully capable of playing a depth role on a competitive team. It’s extremely unlikely that he’ll be willing to go anywhere except San Jose.

Patrick Marleau – W: Marleau was traded from Toronto to Carolina so that he could be bought out last week. It’s no secret that Marleau would like to go back to the San Jose Sharks, but it may be difficult for them to make it work with their current cap situation. The 39-year-old had 16 goals and 37 points in 82 games in 2018-19. Again, he’ll likely be looking to sign with a team that has a legitimate chance of winning it all.

Jason Pominville – W: There’s still a chance that Pominville could end up back with the Buffalo Sabres, but that’s not a given at this point. The 36-year-old had 16 goals and 31 points in 73 games with the Sabres last season. Would he really consider going elsewhere? We’ll find out sooner than later.

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.