LATEST NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE NEWS & NOTES – GOLDEN KNIGHTS, RED WINGS, MAPLE LEAFS

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There were 44 restricted free agents to officially file for salary arbitration this past week, a pretty significant spike from the number we saw just one year ago. If history is any guide most of those contract situations will be resolved before arbitration is actually needed because neither the team nor the player wants to go through that unpleasantness.

If there is a situation that seems destined to reach that point this summer it just might be William Karlsson and the Vegas Golden Knights, because it might be one of the most difficult and complex contract situations out of the entire RFA group.

Karlsson’s 2017-18 season was simply outstanding.

He finished as the NHL’s third-leading goal-scorer (43).

He posted outstanding possession numbers as part of Vegas’ top line between Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith.

He absolutely shattered all of his previous career numbers — not just from any individual season, but his *entire* career numbers. A fact that Vegas Twitter account was happy to point out on Friday.

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This situation — which absolutely nobody saw coming — presents a lot of problems for the team, and Karlsson, when it comes working out a new contract for this season.

When you look at Karlsson’s actual performance in 2017-18 it absolutely justifies a significant pay raise over the $1 million salary he made the past two years. But how much and how long should Vegas be reasonably comfortable committing to at this point?

The problem for Karlsson is that Vegas has every reason to be skeptical that this type of performance is repeatable. His 23.4 percent shooting percentage was not only the best mark in the NHL, it was the third-highest mark of any NHL player over the past 20 years, finishing behind only Mike Ribeiro’s 25.2 mark in 2007-08 and Curtis Glencross’ 23.6 in 2011-12. That number is almost certain to regress this upcoming season, which would mean an obvious decrease in goals.

At this point the Golden Knights still do not know what they have in Karlsson, and signing him to any sort of a long-term contract extension is probably just too much of a risk. That means a short-term bridge deal is almost certainly in the cards. And that is where things could get a little ugly.

Given that Karlsson only has one year of this level of production to his credit the Golden Knights are going to have a pretty compelling case in arbitration, meaning there probably is not much reason for them to come forward with any sort of a sizable contract offer — even on a short-term bridge deal. That likely means that even after scoring 43 goals this past season and helping lead a first-year expansion team to the Stanley Cup Final he probably still will not fully cash in on that production.

One or way or another he is probably going to have to prove it again in 2018-19 before that can happen. If it ever happens. Unfortunately for Karlsson it seems unlikely that another 23 percent shooting percentage and 40-goal season is on the horizon … unless he finds a way to completely shock the hockey world for a second year in a row. By Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports


 

Kyle Dubas wants to accomplish the impossible. Again.

Just days after getting John Tavares on July 1 in the biggest free agent signing in recent memory, the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager went on Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts podcast and made a declaration.

With the signing of Tavares, the Maple Leafs forced their intentions on the rest of the National Hockey League. They’re a force to be reckoned with now, and they’re an instant Stanley Cup contender.

But one of the lingering questions after the hoopla surrounding the Tavares signing slowed down was this: Can the Maple Leafs, who’ve just given a man $11 million per year for the next seven seasons, also afford Auston Matthews, who may very well command similar money, and fellow studs in William Nylander and Maple Leafs scoring leader last season, Mitch Marner.

Not everyone believes Dubas can. But don’t tell that to Dubas.

“We can and we will,” Dubas said, without uttering another word.

The proverbial mic drop.

The fine folks at CapFriendly have the Maple Leafs counting just over $63 million against the salary cap, which is set at $79.5 million for 2018-19.

Nylander, a current restricted free agent, put up his second 61-point year in as many seasons as an NHL sophomore in 2017-18. He’s a bright, young talent that has meshed well with Matthews, Toronto’s franchise center. And he’s due a significant pay raise and could be thrown an offer sheet at any moment to force Dubas to walk the walk.

“I think the easy answer is there’s only one of them that doesn’t have a contract for next season and that’s William,” Dubas said. “These are all very important players to the Maple Leafs and to our future. Rather than rushing to get them done on the first day, if a player is going to be signing up here long term … you need to sit with them and convey to them what the vision for the team is and what they’re signing up for, for the next however many years it is.”

And things really start to hit the fan after next season with Matthews, Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Josh Leivo and Connor Carrick all needing extensions as RFAs.

That’s a hell of a lot of wizardry that needs to be performed to keep the kids together, even with James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov coming off the books. But Dubas is confident, despite the massive task ahead of him.

Matthews is getting a big money deal, but perhaps Dubas can chain together some bridge deals, especially for Marner and Nylander, which would be ideal given their cap situation next season.

But the Maple Leafs still need help on defense. Sure, they got one of the best spines in the league down the middle on forward, and some very good players flanking them, but their backend wasn’t exactly world-beating this past season.

(Who knows. Maybe Dubas is going to sign Erik Karlsson for seven years at $2 million per season because, well, Dubas.)

The Leafs aren’t the first team to encounter their current predicament.

The Winnipeg Jets are in a similar situation at the moment with their host budding stars.

And there’s proof that teams can sign several players to monster deals and put together complementary pieces around them.

Consider that the 2017-18 Capitals had more than $30 million going to Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby on a significantly lower cap.

Or that the 2015-16 and 2016-17 Penguins had $32.2 million going to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel on even lower salary caps than that one.

Or that the 2014-15 Blackhawks had more than $24 million going to Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith on an even lower salary cap than all of the previous three.

The Caps just won the Cup, the Penguins won the previous two, and the Blackhawks, despite a poor season last year, have been one of the most dominant teams over the past decade.

The blueprint is there, but it takes more than signing four or five guys to big money to accomplish.

Time will tell if Dubas can be put on the same pedastal with the likes of Stan Bowman and Jim Rutherford. Opening the cheque book is one thing, expertly crafting a team that can win a Cup or two is something entirely different. Scott Billeckis a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports


 

Even though he wound up settling for a league minimum contract, new Blue Jackets winger Anthony Duclair received a fair amount of interest around the league.  His agent, Phillipe Lecavalier, told Aaron Portzline of The Athletic (subscription required) that more than a third of the league showed some interest in the 22-year-old with about half of those tendering contract offers (including at least one offering more money).  Duclair wound up picking Columbus in part based on a conversation with former NHL player Vincent Lecavalier, who played for head coach John Tortorella in Tampa Bay in the early 2000s.  If he fares well in his new home, the Blue Jackets will be able to tender him a pretty cheap qualifying offer next summer.

More from around the league:

  • Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth may not be ready for the start of training camp following multiple offseason shoulder surgeries, GM Joe Sakic told Mike Chambers of the Denver Post. The 26-year-old is Colorado’s last NHL restricted free agent and is coming off of a career year that saw him post 15 points (3-12-15) in 68 games while logging just shy of 20 minutes of ice time per game.  Nemeth was among the group that filed for salary arbitration earlier this week and is one year away from UFA eligibility.
  • Although his signing largely went under the radar, new Sharks center Antti Suomela was one of the more sought-after players so far this offseason.  Paul Gackle of the Bay Area News Group notes that San Jose beat out roughly a dozen teams to secure the services of the 24-year-old which may result in them ensuring that he receives an NHL spot to start next season.  Suomela is coming off a strong season in Finland where he led the SM-liiga in scoring with 60 points in 59 games.

The Red Wings have locked up their top pick from last month’s draft, announcing (via Twitter) that they have signed winger Filip Zadina to a three-year, entry-level contract.  Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

The 18-year-old was expected by some to go as high as third overall in the draft but he wound up slipping to sixth where Detroit scooped him up.  He’s coming off of a very strong first season at the major junior level that saw him score 44 goals along with adding 38 assists in just 57 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL.  He also had a strong showing at the World Juniors where he put up seven goals in as many games.

It’s expected that Zadina will make a push for a full-time roster spot in Detroit in training camp where he could slot in as a second or third line forward and add some much-needed secondary scoring.  If he fails to crack the roster though, there are some questions surrounding where he could go.

While it was reported earlier this week that he would have to go back to Halifax is he gets cut, GM Ken Holland told reporters, including MLive’s Ansar Khan, on Friday that the league is still looking into Zadina’s situation as to whether he is a CHL-contracted player or on loan from the Czech league.  If it’s the latter, he would be eligible to play at the AHL level as early as next season.  Holland acknowledged that a decision on that may come over the next couple of weeks. By 


When Alex Ovechkin was asked last month about what he planned to do with the Stanley Cup when he brings it to his native Moscow, the Washington Capitals captain lit up with excitement.

“I’m going to share it with all the people who I know, people who I don’t know,” he said. “But I’m just going to share my moment with them because lots of fans haven’t seen it, never touched it.”

Ovechkin has proven to be a man of his word.

He began his two days with the Cup in Russia’s capital Saturday and has filled his schedule with opportunities for others to share in his celebration of the Capitals’ first Stanley Cup championship since they entered the NHL in 1974.

Ovechkin brought the Cup to the FIFA World Cup Fan Fest, near Moscow State University, where he stayed for almost three hours, with thousands of fans hoping to catch a glimpse of him with the Cup.

It’s evident from the moment you arrive in Moscow that World Cup fever has taken over, from signs in the airport and throughout the city. Tourists who come to visit St. Basil’s Cathedral and take photos of the Kremlin and Lenin’s Mausoleum mix with those heading into Football Park, an interactive fan experience set up in the middle of Red Square.

St. Basil's in Moscow

Ovechkin and his wife, Nastya, along with Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, Dallas Stars forward Alexander Radulov and Los Angeles Kings forward Ilya Kovalchuk, attended Russia’s round-of-16 win against Spain on Sunday. Russia plays Croatia in the quarterfinals in Sochi, Russia on Saturday, and Ovechkin bringing the Cup to the Fan Fest clearly livened up the party atmosphere.

Penguins' Evgeni Malkin, Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, Stars' Alexander Radulov and Kings' Ilya Kovalchuk attend Russia's World Cup win over Spain on Sunday.

At the Fan Fest, Ovechkin signed autographs and took photos with fans who waited in a long line; one fan said he had been on line for two hours. Even though it began to rain, the line did not let up.

He spoke to the Russian media briefly, then took the stage, Cup in hand, and addressed the crowd. He lifted the Cup over his head before leaving the stage.

Ovechkin then headed to Dynamo Moscow’s Training Center and Hockey School in the Moscow suburb of Novogorsk to give the young players in the program and their families a chance to see the Cup. Ovechkin, 32, grew up playing for Dynamo before he was selected by the Capitals with the first pick in the 2004 NHL Draft and joined them to begin the 2005-06 NHL season.

When Ovechkin was 14, Igor Larionov, who won the Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997, 1998 and 2002, visited with Dynamo and spoke about his NHL experiences and winning the Cup. It was then that Ovechkin decided that was something he wanted to do if he got the opportunity.

“One day I wanted to be in his position to raise the Cup, and in the future I will share this moment with some kids,” he said. “Because when you’re a kid you don’t know what your life is going to be, who you’re going to be. Of course you dream to be a professional athlete or a very good businessman or whatever. … My dream was to be a hockey player, to be a good hockey player, win the Cup.”

He spoke last month about wanting his days with the Cup to be a big party.

“It’s going to be something special,” Ovechkin said. “It’s going to be something I’m going to share with all the people, all my family and friends.”

Ovechkin was scheduled to wrap Saturday at a private event at a karaoke club, where he was expected to watch Russia’s game against Croatia. He’ll spend most of his second day with the Cup on Sunday out of the spotlight with family and friends.

Ovechkin, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after leading the NHL with a Capitals-record 15 postseason goals, spoke in June about how grateful he was for his family’s support throughout his career.

It took him 13 NHL seasons to win the Cup, and the joy he felt from finally achieving his goal was evident in how he celebrated, whether it was frolicking in fountains with teammates or dancing with the Cup at a private team party.

Now he and his family in Moscow will have their own moments with the Cup.

“My grandma, she will touch it. She will kiss it,” Ovechkin said. “It’s something special. You never thought how cool it is. Of course you have dreams about it, but this is something unbelievable.” Tom Gulitti, NHL.com Staff Writer

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