A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. This weekend's blog was fueled by a triple shot of Game 7.
1. As Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas responds to the trade inquiries he’s receiving on No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen, surely there will be an element of seller beware.
In two ways, we wonder if the results of Dubas’s splashy transaction of the 2019 off-season will be informing consideration around this one.
By trading Tyson Barrie to Toronto entering the final year of the defenceman’s deal, Colorado’s Joe Sakic was able to recoup a tangible asset (Nazem Kadri wrapped the playoffs with 9-9-18) under contract for a player he knew he’d be unable to re-sign at the going rate. And Dubas cut bait on a good player at fine value, Kadri, in part because of playoff gaffes.
Dubas surely has an idea the kind of money Andersen will be looking for as an unrestricted free agent in 2021 and knows it’ll be difficult to accommodate under a flat cap, especially with Zach Hyman’s raise expected to take priority.
So, if Andersen is doubtful to be part of Toronto’s long-term future, why not trade him when his value is at its highest (i.e., now)?
There are potential trading partners here — Carolina, Minnesota, Calgary and Buffalo, to name a few — hunting for a goalie upgrade that have assets (defencemen) that should interest Dubas.
(Fun fact: Brian Burke revealed on radio this week that the Flames were in the bidding for Andersen in 2016, but Lou Lamoriello of the Leafs offered a higher draft pick to Anaheim and got the goalie.)
But just because Dubas can trade Andersen doesn’t mean he should.
I keep coming back to this: Is there a better starter available for $5 million or less right now that will be a better fit and perform as well as Andersen has behind a thin blue line?
Because gambling on your goaltending in what may be the last bid for a run with the "Big Four" is risky.
Robin Lehner and Jacob Markstrom are great — but expensive. Corey Crawford is superb when on his game, but injuries are a serious concern. A hungry-for-more backup like Alexandar Georgiev is intriguing but, ultimately, a guess. Matt Murray is young, accomplished and available, but his recent work is spotty.
(Sidebar: Sabres goalie coach Mike Bales previously worked with Murray in Pittsburgh, and Buffalo is desperate for a proven No. 1.)
Fact is, there aren’t 31 no-brainer No. 1 goalies to go around. Toronto has one at under market value for 2020-21. Tinker at your own risk.
All that said, one name does raise my eyebrows…
2. Darcy Kuemper’s raise kicks in next season, at which point the Arizona Coyotes goaltender’s AAV raises from $1.85 million to $4.5 million.
I get that the new ownership is on tilt. The Coyotes are facing a financial crunch and must consider moving some desirable assets to recoup the draft picks lost by running their own illegal mini combine.
But if the new regime is concerned about wise spending, the late-blooming Kuemper is still an incredible deal at $4.5 million.
Once Markstrom, Lehner and Braden Holtby get paid, Kuemper will likely be the 20th-highest-paid goalie in the NHL next season.
Not too shabby for a starter coming off back-to-back .925-plus campaigns, the team’s regular-season and playoff MVP, and a guy named to his first All-Star game.
If you need a goalie, heck ya, you’re calling.
If you’re Arizona, trading Kuemper seems like a horrible way to boost your dressing room or excite the fan base.
3. A few thoughts on the Jake Allen trade:
• With Vince Dunn and Alex Pietrangelo needing raises, Blues GM Doug Armstrong noticed more of a buyer’s market for goalies in the early going here as he began shopping Allen.
“Some of the teams I talked to like Jake as a goaltender but didn't want to give any assets at this time for that,” said Armstrong, preferring to grab a third-round pick and not retain any salary ($4.35 million) while he could. “For us, one in the hand was better than two in the bush."
• St. Louis was reaching a point with 25-year-old prospect Ville Husso, now with four AHL seasons under his belt, where it felt compelled to give him a crack at the NHL.
"He needs to get those 25 to 30 starts [behind Jordan Binnington]. We need to find out. Our scouting information and our goalie coaches, they've given him a thumbs-up,” Armstrong said. “I talked to the minor-league American Hockey League general manager, development coaches. Everyone feels he's ready for the opportunity, and we need this organization to provide opportunity for younger players.”
• OK, but Allen is one of the NHL’s best backups. He posted a 12-6-3 record with a .927 save percentage this season, then found a higher level in the playoffs (2-1-1, .935). If this summer has taught us anything, it’s the value of a No. 2 goalie. (Only one of the final eight teams, Tampa, has got all its playoff wins from one netminder.)
• Binnington’s playoff showing (0-5, .851) is why GMs use leverage to sign breakout RFAs to prove-it bridge deals. Big 2020-21 season upcoming for the 2019 Cup champ.
• Just because Allen got traded, I don't think that necessarily means St. Louis's other trade-bait options with one year left (Tyler Bozak, Alexander Steen) should feel 100 per cent safe. Colton Parayko is the blockbuster option, but that's a deal you can't afford to miss on.
• Armstrong is being so tight-lipped on the state of Pietrangelo’s extension talks, he won't even say whether or not the sides have spoken since the Blues' season ended.
“Obviously I don't think we've made any secret that we'd love to get Alex signed, and I think Alex has made it known that he would like to sign here, so we're going to have to work through that,” Armstrong said. “At the end of the day, it's a math equation.”
Can you break down the figures in that equation, Doug?
“It's 81.5 million divided by 23.”
4. We’re not saying this Boston Bruins core can’t take another run at glory, but there is certainly a feeling this was their last best shot.
Krejci, 34, had a heckuva playoffs, picking up his offensive contributions (12 points in 13 games) as David Pastrnak battled through a lower-body injury. He took overtime elimination by the hands of Tampa Bay hard, realizing the off-season and an unknown start date for 2020-21 only adds to the uncertainty.
“It just kinda hit me after the game that the core group, a few of us, we have one or two, three years left. With the pandemic going on, you never know what’s going to happen. So, it’s just kind of – I just got a little sad right now,” said Krejci, cap pulled low, eyes pulled downward, away from the Zoom camera.
“At the same time, I don’t regret coming into this bubble and fighting for the Stanley Cup. If I would have to do it again, I would."
The easy connection is to peg Torey Krug, a Michigan native, to rebuilding Detroit. GM Steve Yzerman has committed a grand total of $3.875 million to his blue line for 2020-21 and beyond. Essentially he’s constructing a back end from scratch.
One could do a lot worse than bringing in a feisty 29-year-old with 75 games of post-season experience as a pillar.
At his virtual locker cleanout, Krug used the word very twice to describe how little contract discussions have occurred between his agent, Lewis Gross, and Bruins GM Don Sweeney. As ever, though, Krug maintained his desire to remain a Bruin.
But there will be no discounts on term here. Krug made like Myles Turner swatting away the notion of a one-year COVID contract.
“I’m very opposed to that. I’ve bet on myself, and I’ve taken shorter term deals and less amount of money my whole career now,” Krug said.
“This is my time in terms of my value at its peak, and I have the ability and I’m in a position now where I need to make the most of it. I’m very opposed to something like that. I’ve done it long enough now. That’s the situation I’m facing.”
Krug has a young family and wants a handle on his future sooner than later. If Sweeney can’t accommodate the defenceman’s long-term request, we wonder if Krug’s negotiating rights get dealt early. That would give a prospective acquiring team the option of spreading his hefty cap hit over eight years.
5. This nugget, from Yahoo! Sports’ Mike Stephens:
Sam Kim, the Maple Leafs’ brand-new video coach, previously served as Sparky, the New York Islanders mascot, from 2008 to 2011.
Get your foot in the door by any means, kids.
6. Loved Alain Vigneault’s metaphor for his never-say-die Flyers group, a team that has now pushed the Islanders to the brink with consecutive elimination survival efforts and three overtime victories:
“I sorta feel like we’re that toy there growing up, that you keep punching in the face and it keeps getting back up. We’ve been whacked. We were down 3-1. And we’re still there. Gave ourselves a chance.”
7. The main attraction of Mike Sullivan’s overhauled support staff in Pittsburgh this week was the rapid return of Todd Reirden to his former post as Penguins assistant, but the other name in the press release is even more intriguing for me.
One of the first features I wrote during the pause centred around Mike Vellucci, who has now graduated from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and finally made it to an NHL bench after a 25-year coaching career that has seen him claim championships at every level.
“I’m ready. I’ve proven myself from the ground up, and I’m ready for the next challenge, which would be an NHL head coach,” Vellucci told me over the phone.
“I’ve been a head coach my whole life and have the track record of winning at every level I’ve been at, and I’ve made the playoffs every year that I’ve coached. So, it’s something that I’m proud of. No matter what kind of team I have, I find a way to get us to the next level.”
Lucky to survive a 1984 car crash with Al Iafrate shortly after getting drafted as a player, Vellucci’s story of perseverance is incredible one.
Congrats on making it back to the show, coach.
8. Roberto Luongo chimed in Thursday night on the great goalie debate in Vegas:
Marc-Andre Fleury has a 3-0 record this post-season but a sub-.900 save percentage in those scattered starts. Not getting a start on the back-to-back and following consecutive Lehner losses feels like it might be the final twist of the sword.
If his relationship with the coach Peter DeBoer is irreconcilable, one must wonder: Has Fleury started his final game as a Golden Knight?
And in a flooded goalie market under a flat cap, who is willing to shell out $7 million in each of the next two seasons for a goaltender -- however great -- who will be 36 when the puck drops again?
It’s not an impossible deal, but Kelly McCrimmon may have to attach a draft pick sweetener and/or retain salary.
Also, at this point, with three shutouts in the Western semifinal, how does Vegas not take a stab at retaining Lehner?
Twitter got me fired up for today’s game. Thanks for the motivation!
— Robin Lehner (@RobinLehner) September 5, 2020
But Vancouver had players dominating the post-season in a couple of the blue-collar categories as well.
Veteran defenceman Alexander Edler amassed 13 more shot blocks than anyone else in the playoffs (67) and his closest pursuer was teammate Chris Tanev (54).
Meanwhile Elias Pettersson was a penalty-drawing monster, co-leading in the category with 13. Moreover, he only took one minor himself for an NHL-best net of 12 power-plays created for his club. What an impact.
As overheard by reporter Thomas Drance on an angry Golden Knights bench after Pettersson drew another one in Game 6: “It’s the same [bleeping] guy every night!”
But it was not just Petey causing refs’ arms to raise. Vancouver’s Troy Stecher has also drawn 13, with a net eight power-plays created.
10. Covering the Islanders-Flyers series this round, I’ve gotten a kick out of some rather strong fan reaction from both sides.
The series is 3-3. The total goals at even strength are 16-16. Philly has a tiny edge in 5-on-5 shots (173-172), while New York has generated a few more quality scoring chances.
Point is, in a series this tight — “greasy,” as Vigneault keeps calling it — little (mis)plays get magnified.
Islanders fans flipped out when rookie goalie Carter Hart left his crease during Game 5’s overtime period and went behind his net to catch a rimmed puck. You can’t do that. By letter of the law, it’s a delay-of-game penalty.
Yet Hart got off with a warning, and the Flyers’ Scott Laughton scored the game-winner shortly afterward. I asked Hart how concerned he was that he’d get penalized for his actions here:
“I was just trying to knock the puck down off the glass there. I didn’t even notice it bounced right in my glove. So, I didn't know what to do. I just quickly sprinted back to my crease and then got a warning,” Hart explained. “So, I just gotta be a little more careful next time.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning upgraded its veteran depth with five small but significant parts over the past year. Alone, none of the contracts are that expensive, but there was a concerted effort to recruit proven NHLers with talents that can shine in a grind.
Coach Jon Cooper said GM Julien BriseBois sat down with the coaching staff to discuss what the group needed to make a go.
“We were looking for some guys that had a little bit of dirt under the nails,” Cooper said.
“Oftentimes it's not how many (you) score, but it's how many you keep out of the net. Are you going to be a pain in the (expletive) to the other team? Are you going to be able to wear a team down? And skill does that to a certain extent, but anybody that's been a part of playoffs knows that, the game, it's a grind, and you need those type of guys who can fight through that stuff.
“We found them, and it’s clearly really helped us.”
12. Any true sports fan who’s been to Boston has popped into The Fours.
The iconic sports bar, located a Pastrnak wrister away from TD Garden, served its final plate of turkey tips on Monday, forced to turn off the taps after 44 years.
The place was a pre- and post-game institution, its walls decorated spectacularly and endlessly with jerseys and photographs from all the local teams. A trip to the men’s room was like a walk through a Boston sports museum. You’d take the long way on purpose to get lost in the nostalgia.
Sweet memories. And a bitter reminder that the industry around fandom -- our beloved watering holes near rinks, fields and arenas -- is taking a serious beating.
Pouring one out for The Fours on this long weekend.