A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.
1. Every single second-round playoff team has a minimum of three roster players who carry an annual cap hit in excess of $5 million. The Predators have three such skaters; the Senators, Oilers and Ducks have four; the Rangers, Penguins and Capitals have five; and the Blues have six.
Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner will be those $5-million-plus players you need to contend, but not until 2018 or 2019. So the question is, when do you spend more than $5 million per year on a defenceman via free agency or trade?
That’s what Morgan Rielly makes, so when you do crack the wallet, that D-man should be better than Rielly. Pretty high bar, if you watched him in the Capitals series.
Kevin Shattenkirk (right shot) is the only UFA defenceman that fits that bill this summer. Brett Hull — who works for the Blues — reminded us this week that Shattenkirk said “he wanted to go back home, back east to the New York or Boston area.”
Summer 2018 could bring Marc-Edouard Vlasic (left), Cam Fowler (left) and John Carlson (right) to the open market.
Do you wait a year, or do you sacrifice from your forward depth to bring in a top-four, right-shot defenceman to play with Rielly (left), Zaitsev (right) and Jake Gardiner (left) now?
According to playing time and financial commitment, those guys represent three-quarters of the top four for the next two years, minimum.
Right-shot UFA Cody Franson is already on record saying he’d welcome a move back to Toronto. He could be a Plan B, a low-cost, short-term option for a year or two if the big-splash acquisition doesn’t materialize.
But if I’m Lou Lamoriello, I’m calling Anaheim, Carolina and Minnesota in effort to swap young(ish) scoring for young(ish) defence now.
2. Honestly, did not think we’d see the day when a hockey club managed by Lou Lamoriello tweeted out the years and dollar value of a new contract signing. The Maple Leafs’ PR department did just that Tuesday with both the Nikita Zaitsev and Ben Smith deals.
Needed to wipe down my monitor after doing a spit take when those numbers popped up in the ol’ feed.
When Lamoriello ran the ship in New Jersey, the cloak-and-dagger Devils would not even include the exact number of years in their purposely vague “multi-year extension” announcements.
“Hey, guys, where’d Lagenbrunner go?”
“Dunno. Contract must be up.”
In a salary cap world, this information leaks anyway. Seriously: Kudos to the Leafs for being upfront and joining the growing group of teams going the full-disclosure route. (No team has been more forward-thinking in this realm than the Predators, though.)
3. Was crammed inside a knot of media in a Verizon Center corridor after Washington’s Game 2 defeat, waiting an unusually long time for the Capitals dressing room doors to open.
Coach Barry Trotz was asked not to speak by some team leaders, and he said he was happy to oblige. A players’ meeting was being held. Oh, to be a fly on the wall.
Nicklas Backstrom was the one to speak up, according to Justin Williams. The nature of his message has been left to speculation.
“What was said in this room are things that people needed to say, our leaders needed to say. Things that people needed to hear,” T.J. Oshie explained, choosing his word carefully. “I don’t think specifics are important to get out into the media. What’s important is that what was said was the correct message of how we need to move forward.”
Oshie said the players needed to change their attitude. At that point the series was 2-0 Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby was healthy. Popped into a D.C. sports bar after the loss, and not one fan I spoke with believed their team could recover. Most were talking sweep.
“No one in here needs a lesson in how to go home early. It’s well known. The fans know it,” Oshie said. “We need to man-up here.”
Now that the Caps have fallen behind 3-1 to the champs, it’s difficult to ignore the mental mountain that needs to be climbed here.
Trotz was asked Wednesday if Washington has “something mental” against the Penguins.
His answer: “Not really.”
4. Actual Edmonton nurses representing for Darnell and the Oilers is a simple stroke of brilliance:
5. The Nashville Predators‘ big four defencemen have combined for an incredible 22 points through eight games this post-season.
Of the 11 goals the Preds have scored in their series versus the Blues, nine have involved at least one D-man. That’s 82 per cent of scoring being generated directly by the back end.
Rumour has it, Don Cherry would like St. Louis to cover the points.
6. Could home-ice advantage — so coveted in football and basketball post-seasons — be any less relevant than in the parity party of the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Road teams finished with a record of 45-46 in the 2016 NHL post-season, and now they’re on track to better that.
Through Thursday, the visitors had won 53.4 per cent of 2017 playoff games with a record of 31-27.
7. With so many moving roster parts coming up, we applaud the Blackhawks and Hurricanes for getting the jump on a move that had to happen.
Chicago was not going to be able to retain backup Scott Darling (39-17-9 with a .923 save percentage over three seasons) in free agency, so Stan Bowman got something for his rights.
That something was a third-round pick, of which Carolina had two extras in the 2017 draft.
Coach Bill Peters told The News & Observer he hopes GM Ron Francis only keeps two of the Hurricanes’ 10 remaining draft picks. Use the rest for trades and make a run at the 2017 playoffs. It’s time.
We all know where the Hurricanes stand on Eddie Lack, and Cam Ward ($3.3 million cap hit through 2017-18) may be heading into his final year as a starter.
A Darling-Ward tandem would allow the Hurricanes to give Darling more starts than he’s ever had and feel confident mixing things up if one slumps.
“I feel like I’ve paid my dues as a backup,” Darling told Chicago reporters.
He has. Were it not for Darling’s splendid relief work against the Predators in Round 1 of the 2015 playoffs, it’s possible the Blackhawks don’t win the Cup that year.
The man could become Carolina’s Cam Talbot — at least he’s worth a shot.
8. Tyler Bozak played 78 games this season. He opened up about a nagging injury he was playing with down the stretch.
“I had a real bad back there for a while. It was tough,” Bozak said. “Our training staff did a great job getting me ready for games. It just wasn’t working out to do skates and practices when I couldn’t. It was a battle. Just getting old, I think.” He chuckled.
“Sometimes you can’t get out of bed in the morning. You get to the rink, get it worked on, then you’re just barely able to get out there. Once you start playing, the adrenaline kicks in and you forget about it a bit.”
Bozak would sit on a blue pad on the bench to alleviate some of the stress on his back, but didn’t go with a heavy painkilling medication.
“I don’t like doing stuff like that,” he said. “I’ll just take a Tylenol or Advil and hope you’re able to go.”
9. The Anaheim Ducks must figure out a way to keep Jakob Silfverberg and his bargain contract ($3.75 million in each of the next two seasons) as far away from the expansion draft as possible.
Randy Caryle called the Swede “a coach’s dream,” and his playoff output—team-high seven goals (two of them game-winners) plus two assists—backs up that praise.
Problem is, if Bob Murray does make Silfverberg off-limits, a good defenceman—Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson or Cam Fowler—gets exposed.
By trade or draft, the Ducks are guaranteed to lose a good one soon. But young, affordable goal-scoring wings should not be sacrificed here. Not with Corey Perry, 31, having his least-productive season in a decade and finding the back of the net just once in the past two post-seasons combined. He has a no-movement clause and must be protected by the Ducks.
10. Alex Semin has fallen out of favour with another professional hockey team.
The Russian sniper had a decent KHL regular season, his second for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, putting up 16 goals and 30 points. Then he flunked the playoffs: 18 games, no goals, two assists, minus-3 rating, 20 penalty minutes.
The 33-year-old will not be offered a new contract by Metallurg.
11. Following Vegas’s signing of SKA’s Vadim Shipachyov, there are reports the Golden Knights are also interested in his younger linemate, 28-year-old Evgeny Dadonov.
Dadonov had 30 goals and 66 points in 53 KHL games and was better than point-per-game winger in St. Petersburg’s run to the Gagarin Cup. The two are magic together. Rumour has it, Montreal is in the mix for Dadonov, too.
Fell down a rabbit hole. Check out this hit Shipachev laid on Finland’s Pekka Jormakka in 2014:
12. Washington’s Karl Alzner is rapidly being positioned as this summer’s Kris Russell: a respected stay-at-home defenceman heading to free agency amidst a flurry of data that points to his deficiencies.
While Alzner—an ironman and penalty-killing force—sat out seven consecutive playoff games (very uncharacteristic) for the Capitals with a suspected concussion, his quick-footed replacement, Nate Schmidt, looked good.
Alzner returned in Game 3, with the Caps going with seven D, but his price tag this summer likely prevents a re-signing. We’re bracing ourselves for the charts-and-graphs crowd to scream “Over-rated!” when a new team grabs him. He’s a minus-3 with no points in these playoffs.
Despite his durability, we wonder if his recent injuries will hurt his payday. Alzner told the Washington Post he’s been slower since 2016’s sports hernia surgery.
And anyone interested in signing Alzner this summer would be well-served to look at Laich's career pre- and post-injury (the red line here). pic.twitter.com/oxfa2JD9jL
— Japers' Brink (@JapersRink) April 26, 2017