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Marc-Andre Fleury commits to Golden Knights with three-year extension

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The Vegas Golden Knights are betting on Marc-Andre Fleury building off a strong 2017-18 season after handing the goaltender a three-year, $21 million extension on Friday.

“I’m really excited about it. My family and I really love Vegas, the organization, my teammates,” Fleury said in a Twitter video announcing the extension. “I feel very blessed to have the support to keep playing in front of you guys for a few more years. Thanks for the support. Thanks to my team for trusting me and we’ll see you guys in September.”

Fleury, who will be 34 in November, became the face of the expansion franchise this season — one that ended with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. 

After missing two months of the season due to a concussion, Fleury finished with .931 even strength save percentage and four shutouts in 46 starts. In the postseason, he played a huge role in their run to the Final, posting four shutouts and a .927 ESSV%. It didn’t take long for him to become a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate, and there were many that had him pegged through three rounds as the winner even in a losing effort. (He did receive two third-place votes in the final voting.)

Before heading to Vegas, Fleury averaged a .923 ESSV% in his final five seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. This past season everything went right for the Golden Knights, including the play of their goaltending, led by Fleury. So if you’re expecting some regression, this, along with his injury history, is why this contract is a risky one.

Fleury’s extension, which features a modified no-trade clause and has no signing bonuses, doesn’t kick in until the 2019-20 season (he has one year at $5.75 million left on his current deal). His play has been up and down the last few seasons and he’s also suffered several concussions. The odds aren’t in favor of improvement as goaltenders age, especially when they reach their mid-thirties. General manager George McPhee certainly has the cap space to play with and many of the potential goaltending options in future free agency summers will be locked up before even getting close to unrestricted status.

If you’re McPhee, you see that the cap ceiling has been rising annually and you’re trying to establish a foundation for a new franchise after a successful inaugural year. You don’t think of the Golden Knights without thinking of Fleury and the GM is willing to gamble that even if there is some regression to his goaltender’s game it’s not enough of a hindrance to the team’s goals. There’s also the hope that one of Malcolm Subban or Oscar Dansk becomes “The Next One” in net, or at the very least a “1B” option over the length of this deal.

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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.

Five logical landing spots for Erik Karlsson

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The fire’s been turned up on Erik Karlsson trade speculation in the last few days. After the Sens made their franchise defenseman a contract offer on Sunday, the team allowed interested teams to speak to him about a potential trade/extension, too.

Assuming they trade him, the Senators should be able to get a strong return for Karlsson, but who’s going to give them the best offer? And who is the 28-year-old willing to sign an extension with?

Let’s take a look at the five logical landing spots for the Sens captain. There are more than five, but these are the teams that stand out for various reasons:

• Vegas Golden Knights

It’s been reported over and over again that the Golden Knights made a strong push to acquire the Swedish blueliner at the trade deadline, but that didn’t end up working out. Now, they’ve got more time to get something done. GM George McPhee still has to sign RFAs William Karlsson, Colin Miller and Shea Theodore, but he has over $18 million at his disposal.

Looking at what Vegas has to offer, it would seem logical to think that the Sens would want Cody Glass, who was the sixth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The Golden Knights aren’t loaded with high-end prospects, so they probably won’t want to part ways with Glass, especially after he posted a 102-point season in the WHL. Will the Sens be willing to accept a Glass-less package?

• Tampa Bay Lightning

The Bolts would have to create some cap space to make this happen because they only have $4.446 million left to spend, but that shouldn’t be a problem if the Sens are willing to ship them Karlsson.

Things could get really tricky if the Sens insist on Tampa Bay taking Bobby Ryan‘s $7.25 million cap hit as part of the deal, too.

The Lightning have some good prospects like Cal Foote, Taylor Raddysh and a few others, but the Sens will likely want immediate help, too. Would the Lightning give up a Brayden Point or a Mikhail Sergachev? Probably not. So is there enough there for these two sides to make a deal? It’ll be up to GM Steve Yzerman to get creative.

• San Jose Sharks

The Sharks whiffed on their attempt to land John Tavares, so they can now shift their focus to Karlsson. This summer, general manager Doug Wilson has proved that he’s capable of thinking outside the box when it comes to acquiring players and creating cap space. If he can pull this off, it would be huge for the organization.

San Jose already has Brent Burns, so a one-two punch with him and Karlsson would be devastating to face for the rest of the league.

Wilson has over $8 million to spend and he only has one RFA (Chris Tierney) to lock up. One of the issues though, is that the Sharks don’t have a first-rounder, as they traded it to Buffalo for Evander Kane (the Sharks could keep their pick if they finish in the bottom 10 of the league).

• Philadelphia Flyers

Here’s a team that hasn’t necessarily been linked to Karlsson in the mainstream media, but they could be a fit for his services.

The Flyers have money to spend right now, as they have $14.7 million in cap space. Yes, they’ll have to start paying Ivan Provorov big money next season, but you can worry about that later. Talents like Karlsson aren’t made available very often, so you have to make it work.

Philadelphia has plenty of quality prospects at their disposal and the roster is young enough that they can afford to move some of them away.

A blue line of Provorov, Shayne Gostisbere and Karlsson would be one of the best in the entire NHL. Now they only need to find a goalie.

• Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche and Senators made a blockbuster deal last season when Matt Duchene moved to Ottawa, so we know that they’ve worked together before.

The Avs have just under $14.5 million to spend on the cap and they don’t really have any significant players to re-sign this summer. There’s plenty of room for them to fit Karlsson under the cap. Would they be willing to take Ryan, too?

The big thing Colorado has going for them, is that they currently own Ottawa’s first-rounder in 2019. The Sens can say whatever they want about being competitive in 2018-19, but if they lose Karlsson, their lottery odds will likely increase next season. Imagine finishing in the lottery and missing on a chance at Jack Hughes?

Right now, there’s pressure on the Sens to be good because they don’t have that draft pick. If they use Karlsson to get that pick (and other stuff), that would take away the pressure to be good. They could just opt for a quick rebuild because they’d own their own top selection, again.

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.

Losing Stastny hurts, but doesn’t break Jets

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WINNIPEG — Losing out on re-signing veteran center Paul Stastny is a tough pill to swallow for the Winnipeg Jets. But they aren’t choking on it.

Sure, it will sting for a little while.

Stastny came in and found a nice home nestled in between sniper Patrik Laine and speedster Nikolaj Ehlers. The trio gelled immediately following the trade deadline after the Jets shipped a first rounder and a prospect to the St. Louis Blues for Stastny’s services in their eventual run to the Western Conference Final.

The Jets loved Stastny’s attitude, his leadership and his play from the outset.

And there’s no doubt Stastny made the team better — the Jets were 14-4-1 with him in the lineup. He was also great in Winnipeg’s second-round series against the Nashville Predators, culminating in a three-point game in the Jets 5-1 Game 7 victory,

They liked him so much they performed some roster surgery to try and make him fit, sending Steve Mason’s large contract to the Montreal Canadiens along with forward Joel Armia, who was due for a raise.

They offered him term. Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said he tendered the same three-year contract length the Golden Knights gave Stastny.

And they presented him a team that seemingly has a wide-open window to win a Stanley Cup.

But what the Jets couldn’t match was the $6.5 million valuation Geroge McPhee levied on Stastny.

The Jets were simply priced out and Stastny chose to join a similar situation in terms of contending status for slightly more money than the Jets were able to offer.

Cheveldayoff said the Jets went to the very edge and then crossed it to try and bring Stastny back. The almighty dollar, in its almightiness, ruled the day.

“Hockey is a great game but can be an awful business sometimes,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said on Sunday. “We put our best foot forward and maybe even six inches beyond even our best foot to make sure that we would have no regrets if it wasn’t good enough. Because at the end of the day, it was just a reality of what we could or couldn’t do given the good problems that we have in front of us in keeping this solid team together.”

Simply, they fell victim to their own success in developing top-tier talent. It’s not a bad thing, but you can’t always get what you want, a man named Mick Jagger once said.

“We’re at a point in time here where, and I keep going back and talking about when we played in the 2015 playoffs and Mark Scheifele got one assist or something like that in the playoffs, and you see how much of a driver he is right now,” Cheveldayoff said. “You see what the players that were young back then at 21 and are now 25, and you’ve got a good group of 20-, 21-, 22-year-old players that just went through a very rigorous experience in three rounds of the playoffs and they’re going to be better for it.”

The biggest thing for Jets fans to remember is that the team was already good sans Stastny.

When the trade deadline day opened on Feb. 26, the Jets had 37 wins and were sitting in third place overall in the Western Conference. With Stastny — and a little late-season fluttering by the Golden Knights — the Jets moved into second place by the end of the season, four points back of the Predators for the Presidents’ Trophy.

Reality bites sometimes, but it’s not biting the Jets in a hurtful manner.

Despite losing a top-tier second-line center, the Jets’ roster is filled with young, hungry talent. And a lot of that young talent has begun to blossom in such a way that it needs more than careful nurturing to grow.

The Jets need to water their crop with money.

The list this offseason — on that includes Vezina runner-up Connor Hellebuyck, top defensive shutdown duo Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba and several other depth guys — is long. And it doesn’t include three other big-ticket items that are on the horizon, including a Laine contract that could touch double digits, rookie goal-scoring leader this past year Kyle Connor and 91-point forward Blake Wheeler, who will be a free agent at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Cheveldayoff has some finagling to do, and Stastny electing to head to Sin City may have been a bit of a blessing in disguise, at least on the ledger.

With July 1 gone with the wind, and Stastny, too, the Jets can now focus their efforts on their hefty RFA contingent and perhaps ramp up the dialogue with Wheeler and Laine.

“When it’s all said and done, you guys are going to look at the salary cap and roster and say, ‘OK, how were they going to do this anyway?” Cheveldayoff said. “Again, we’ve got a good group of guys here and we’ve got lots of work ahead of us on our RFAs. That’s where things pick up on July 2.”

Cheveldayoff said he’s confident his internal stable of talent can fill the void. Perhaps Bryan Little has a bounce-back season. Or maybe Jack Roslovic takes the next step in his development and slides in between the two Scandanavians.

“Obviously when you have good young players it gives opportunities,” Cheveldayoff said. “But at the end of the day, the biggest thing, and I was reminded of the fact even walking over here, Josh Morrissey became Josh Morrissey because of the opportunity that he got and what he earned in training camp. We’re in a real good spot because Josh Morrissey has developed to where he has.

“So, Kristian Vesalainen, Nikolaj Ehlers, you’ve got to have coaches willing to play these guys when they’re young and give them opportunities. Back, several years ago, that’s all we had, that’s all we could do is play those young guys and let them grow and have our lumps with them. Now you’ve got a core of veterans, you’ve got a core of middle-aged kind of veterans, and you’ve got a core of young guys, and they’re all kind of moving in the same direction, and that’s pretty exciting.”

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

Adding James Neal gives Flames more scoring punch

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The Calgary Flames made huge splash at the NHL Entry Draft when they acquired Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin from the Carolina Hurricanes. More than a week later, GM Brad Treliving was at it again.

Instead of making a trade to improve his team this time, Treliving was able to land a big name via free agency, as he came to terms on a five-year deal with winger James Neal. The contract comes with an annual average value of $5.75 million (total $28.75 million), per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

The 30-year-old gives the Flames another forward that can fill the back of the opposition’s net. Neal had 25 goals and 44 points in 71 games with the Vegas Golden Knights last season. He added six goals and 11 points in 20 games during their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Neal has been a model of consistency when it comes to scoring goals during his career. Since entering the NHL with Dallas back in 2008-09, he’s put 24, 27, 22, 40, 21, 27, 23, 31, 23 and 35-goal seasons. Not too shabby.

The Flames could certainly use that added injection of scoring, as they had 218 goals as a team in 2017-18. Only Vancouver, Detroit, Montreal, Arizona and Buffalo scored less than Calgary last year.

There have already been rumblings about Lindholm being moved to the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. That would mean that Neal could skate on the second line with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk. That’s a pretty good second line.

Treliving also added Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik in free agency on Sunday, so they’ve added even more depth up front.

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.

GM of the Year George McPhee adds another award for Golden Knights

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George McPhee of the Vegas Golden Knights continued a big night for the franchise as he was named 2017-18 General Manager of the Year during Wednesday’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas. Earlier, Gerard Gallant won the Jack Adams Award for top coach, William Karlsson was named winner of the Lady Byng and captain Deryk Engelland took home the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

The NHL’s 31 GMs and a panel of League executives, print and broadcast media voted on the award following the conclusion of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Using the NHL’s expansion draft rules to his advantage, McPhee made shrewd deals to add draft picks and impact players while creating the franchise’s first-ever roster. Success came right off the bat and the Golden Knights ended their inaugural season by becoming the first modern-era expansion team from the four major North American professional sports league to win its division. By advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, Vegas became the third team in NHL history to win multiple playoff rounds in their first season.

McPhee was presented with the award by actress Lynda Carter and Nicklas Backstrom, the player he drafted in fourth overall 2006 while GM of the Washington Capitals.

Kevin Cheveldayoff of the Winnipeg Jets and Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning were the other finalists this year.

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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.