Random Thoughts on the NHL – June 21, 2021

Random Thoughts on the NHL – June 21, 2021

Some NHL followers were grumbling on social media over how the Vegas Golden Knights got more favorable expansion draft rules compared to previous clubs entering the league. Those complaints arose during the Golden Knights march to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final and resurfaced as they reached this year’s semifinals

The previous rules hamstrung the expansion franchises of the 1990s, ensuring for some a long, difficult road toward playoff contention. Some struggled longer than others, largely because of impatient owners, incompetent management or both.

In hindsight, the Golden Knights benefited from those changes to the expansion draft rules. But let’s be honest folks, no one looked at their initial roster and thought, oh, yeah, that’s an instant Cup contender.

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (NHL Images).

Their most notable player was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, considered past his prime by that time. There were also several skilled veterans in Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, David Perron and James Neal, plus some promising players like Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch and William Karlsson. The rest of the lineup was comprised mostly of depth players.

Anyone who declared the Golden Knights a playoff contender entering 2017-18 would’ve been considered naive. Those declaring them a Cup contender would’ve been dismissed as lunatics.

Yet here they are four years later, a club with a solid foundation forged by the former general manager (now team president) George McPhee and built up by current GM Kelly McCrimmon, well-coached first by Gerard Gallant and now Peter DeBoer.

It wasn’t favorable expansion draft rules that made the Golden Knights what they are today. It was savvy management and coaching, something the Seattle Kraken hope to emulate approaching their inaugural campaign.

*****

One benefit of this season’s compacted NHL schedule is we don’t have to endure the cringe-worthy train wreck of the league’s annual award show. Instead, the individual awards are announced by the league, with the winner giving his acceptance speech from his home via Zoom or Skype.

It’s so much better than seeing NHL stars gathered in Las Vegas chafing in their finery enduring has-been musical acts and unfunny comedy routines. This year’s winners seem almost relieved they don’t have to go through that dog-and-pony show.

The league should make this a permanent change but they won’t. The powers-that-be think hockey fans want to watch their favorite stars sitting through its lame-ass version of the Academy Awards. Most couldn’t care less. Those who do so only for the opportunity to mercilessly mock it on social media.

*****

Loyalty is a big reason why Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour turned his club into a rising force among NHL teams. It played a part in why he’s this year’s winner of the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.

The Hurricanes wanted to re-sign Brind’Amour and he wanted to stay on one condition: that his entire coaching staff also received new contracts. It took weeks to hash out the details but the two sides got it done.

Brind’Amour was a team guy when he was a player and he’s the same as a coach. That’s why his players work as hard as they do for him. It’s why the Hurricanes have a bright future as long as ownership ensures Brind’Amour has the players he needs to contend for the Stanley Cup.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 18, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – June 18, 2021

The Lightning regains the lead in their semifinal series with the Islanders, Rod Brind’Amour wins the Jack Adams Award and re-signs with the Hurricanes, the GM of the Year finalists are revealed, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NHL.COM: Brayden Point’s goal late in the second period held up as the winner as the Tampa Bay Lightning nipped the New York Islanders 2-1 to take a two games to one lead in their semifinal series. Point has a six-game point streak and leads all postseason scorers with 11 goals. Yanni Gourde opened the scoring in the first for the Lightning and Cal Clutterbuck tied it in the second. Game 4 is Saturday evening on Long Island.

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Lightning caught a break when Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech received a questionable penalty for interfering with Nikita Kucherov. While they killed that off, the Bolts scored four seconds after Pelech left the box.

Despite that call, the Islanders had plenty of time to even the score but couldn’t generate sufficient offense against the Lightning’s close checking. The Bolts beat the Isles at their own game last night.

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour is this year’s winner of the Jack Adams Award. He also signed a three-year contract extension after guiding the Hurricanes to their first division title since 2005-06.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The contract negotiations dragged on for weeks but this had an air of inevitability about it. The delay was due to final details being hashed out for new contracts for Brind’Amour’s coaching staff.

Marc Bergevin of the Montreal Canadiens, Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders, and Bill Zito of the Florida Panthers are this year’s finalists for the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award. The award is voted on by the league’s general managers and a panel of NHL executives and media following the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

NHLPA: Toronto’s Auston Matthews was named the NHL’s best goal-scorer, Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman named the best defenseman and his teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy the best goalie in the 2020-21 NHLPA player poll.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Of particular note in this poll was over 68 percent of the players don’t want to see the regional division format carried forward from this season. Over 66 percent, however, would like to see the series-style schedule continue.

We already knew the league will return to its traditional conference and divisional format next season. It’ll be interesting to see if the players’ view on the series-style format carries any weight next season’s schedule is drawn up.

Colorado Avalanche center Carl Soderberg is returning home, signing a two-year contract with the Malmo RedHawks of the Swedish Hockey League. He began his playing career with the RedHawks before embarking on a nine-year NHL career with the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This likely spells the end of the 35-year-old Soderberg’s NHL career. He had 110 goals and 297 points in 597 games.

TSN: Rick Westhead reports Chicago Blackhawks senior management allegedly refused to report allegations of sexual assault of two players by a former video coach to the local police during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: A superb piece of investigative journalism by Westhead. A lawsuit filed by one of the two players against the Blackhawks is ongoing. A club spokesman declined to comment because this is an active litigation matter.

TWINCITIES.COM: The Minnesota Wild signed a new affiliate deal with the ECHL’s Iowa Heartlanders.










Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – June 13, 2021

Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – June 13, 2021

Will the Bruins re-sign Taylor Hall? Could the Oilers target Jake DeBrusk? Can the Hurricanes afford to re-sign Dougie Hamilton? Check out the latest in the Sunday NHL rumor roundup.

LATEST ON THE BRUINS

NBC SPORTS BOSTON: On Friday, Nick Goss reported Taylor Hall is hoping to return with the Bruins. “I see a fit, and hopefully they feel the same way,” he said during his season-ending press conference.

Boston Bruins left wing Taylor Hall (NHL Images).

The 29-year-old left-winger played well after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline. He’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 28.

Hall indicated he’s not looking to maximize his value at this point in his career. That suggests he’s looking more for term than dollars this time around. Goss believes the Bruins must re-sign Hall, pointing to their lack of secondary scoring depth without him.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Hall is looking at no more than $6 million annually, the Bruins could re-sign him to perhaps a four or five-year deal.

EDMONTON JOURNAL: Jim Matheson wondered if the Oilers should attempt to acquire winger Jake DeBrusk from the Bruins. The 24-year-old winger seems to have lost his way in Boston, spending time on his off-wing shuffling between the second and third lines.

The Bruins need to free up some cap space if they hope to re-sign Hall, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask. DeBrusk and his $3.65 million cap hit for next season could be manageable on the Oilers’ second line.

Matheson also wondered if the Oilers could have their eye on older, most-costly pending UFA left-wingers like Brandon Saad or Zach Hyman.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Bruins were said to be concerned about giving up on DeBrusk too soon and watch him blossom elsewhere. That could change, however, if they need to clear cap room to retain older veterans. It could also depend upon what type of offers they get for DeBrusk. His status could be worth monitoring this summer.

UPDATE ON THE HURRICANES

THE NEWS & OBSERVER: The respective contract statuses of defenseman Dougie Hamilton and head coach Rod Brind’Amour top Chip Alexander’s list of pressing questions facing the Carolina Hurricanes this summer.

Hamilton, 27, is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 28. Coming off a deal with an annual average value of $5.75 million, he could look around and see Washington’s John Carlson earning $8 million annually, Nashville’s Roman Josi making $9 million per, Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman checking in at $7.875 million and Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon at $7.57 million.

Brind’Amour is adamant about keeping his coaching staff together before re-signing with the Hurricanes. Alexander wondered if that’s become a snag in the contract talks.

Alexander also wondered if this season was the last for pending UFAs Petr Mrazek, Brock McGinn and Jordan Martinook.

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Ben Pope believes Hamilton could be the game-changing defenseman the Blackhawks need if he hits the open market next season. While recent rumors tied the Hawks to Columbus’ Seth Jones, Pope noted Jones’ offensive stats have declined in recent years. It would also cost the Blackhawks some young assets to acquire Jones in a trade.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Hamilton wants to stay in Carolina and the Hurricanes want to keep him. Unless he’s willing to accept a little less than market value, the Hurricanes will have to pay big bucks to keep him. That could affect efforts to re-sign some of their other UFAs.

Hamilton would draw plenty of suitors on the open market. Whether the Blackhawks would be among them remains to be seen. They could prefer more affordable short-term options while waiting for young defensemen such as Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell to reach their potential.










NHL Rumor Mill – June 9, 2021

NHL Rumor Mill – June 9, 2021

Dougie Hamilton’s contract status is the Hurricanes’ offseason priority, the Kings seek two top-six forwards, and the latest on the Rangers’ search for a head coach in today’s rumor mill.

WHAT NEXT FOR THE HURRICANES?

ESPN.COM: Emily Kaplan considers it crucial for the Carolina Hurricanes to re-sign Dougie Hamilton, pointing out their defense is built around him and Jaccob Slavin. The 27-year-old blueliner is due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (NHL Images).

Hamilton’s outplayed his current $5.75 million annual cap hit. While there’s mutual interest in a new deal, the two sides tabled contract negotiations until after this season. Kaplan speculates he could get as much as $8.5 million per season on the open market but the Hurricanes could be uncomfortable going that high.

THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Luke DeCock isn’t optimistic about the Hurricanes’ chances of re-signing Hamilton. He believes the rearguard has “almost certainly played his last game” for the Canes. The same goes for pending UFAs such as Jordan Martinook, Brock McGinn and Petr Mrazek.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The flattened salary cap could limit the number of teams willing to get into a bidding war for Hamilton’s services in this summer’s free-agent market. Nevertheless, there will be a team that will pay him over $8 million annually if the Hurricanes won’t do it.

The emergence of rookie goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic likely spells the end of Mrazek’s tenure with the Hurricanes. James Reimer is also a UFA this summer but it wouldn’t be surprising if he returned as Nedeljkovic’s backup.

Kaplan also considers re-signing head coach Rod Brind’Amour a priority. Sources indicate the two sides are believed to have the framework of a deal in place. However, Brind’Amour also wants his three assistant coaches taken care of as well. She also believes they could lose Brady Skjei, Warren Foegele or Morgan Geekie to the Seattle Kraken in next month’s expansion draft.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: DeCock believes Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon would be insane to let Brind’Amour depart. I can see Hamilton hitting the free-agent market but not Brind’Amour, who’d be quickly snapped up by another club.

KINGS SEEKING TWO TOP-SIX FORWARDS

TSN: Darren Dreger reports the Los Angeles Kings could attempt to acquire two top-six forwards via this summer’s trade or free-agent markets.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s no indication as to who the Kings could target. Unrestricted free agent options include Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Boston’s Taylor Hall, Toronto’s Zach Hyman, Tampa Bay’s Blake Coleman, St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz, Colorado’s Brandon Saad, and the New York Islanders’ Kyle Palmieri.

I spoke with John Hoven of the Kings’ site Mayor’s Manor yesterday about Dreger’s report. He believes they’re seeking established scorers around 27 years old on short-term contracts of two-three years.

That would mean they won’t become a suitor for Buffalo Sabres’ center Jack Eichel. Maybe they’d have an interest in Eichel’s teammate Sam Reinhart? We’ll find out who’s on their radar in the coming weeks.

LATEST ON THE RANGERS COACHING SEARCH

NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks reports Gerard Gallant remains the favorite to become the new head coach of the Rangers. However, general manager Chris Drury is waiting to see if there is fallout from the second round of the playoffs that could make another candidate or two available.

Brooks believes the Rangers will watch Rod Brind’Amour’s contract negotiations with the Hurricanes. It’s believed those two sides were discussing a deal worth $1.8 million annually. Brind’Amour could be in line for $4 million per season with the Rangers but a source told Brooks he’d become the Seattle Kraken’s top choice if he goes to market.

The Blueshirts are also monitoring Paul Maurice’s situation with the Winnipeg Jets and Bruce Cassidy’s with the Boston Bruins. There’s talk Jared Bednar’s job as coach of the Colorado Avalanche could be in jeopardy if they fall to the Golden Knights but it’s not clear if he’d become a candidate for the Rangers’ job.

Former Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet remains a viable candidate after creating a favorable impression with Drury following two interviews with the Rangers.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gallant is probably atop most coaching wish lists this summer. He’ll land an NHL head-coaching gig this summer, be it the Rangers or another club. Brind’Amour would also be pursued by a number of clubs if the Hurricanes are foolish enough to let him walk.

Maurice has been the Jets’ bench boss for seven seasons but there’s no indication the Jets intend to shake things up behind the bench. I don’t think Cassidy will lose his job if the Bruins fall to the Islanders.

Bednar’s done a fine job in Colorado but his coaching of the Avs has come under criticism during their current series with the Golden Knights. It’ll be interesting to see what GM Joe Sakic does if his club fails to advance.










NHL Rumor Mill – May 7, 2021

NHL Rumor Mill – May 7, 2021

Check out the latest on the Blue Jackets, Canucks, Hurricanes, and Coyotes in today’s NHL rumor mill.

THE ATHLETIC: Aaron Portzline recently reported on Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski’s recent decision to change agents. He has a year remaining on his contract but changing agents suggests he wants to open contract discussions this summer.

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: That would coincide with the contract talks expected this summer for Seth Jones, Werenski’s defense partner. Jones is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Werenski, meanwhile, will become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who’ll cost $7 million just to qualify his rights. The Jackets ownership will have to dig deep for the big bucks to keep their top-two defensemen in Columbus.

Portzline also believes Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen must evaluate his current centermen before going shopping for one via trade or free agency. Max Domi, Jack Roslovic, and Alexandre Texier struggled in that position this season. Portzline doesn’t see Kekalainen adding three centers this summer but wonders how many the GM feels he needs.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: As Portzline pointed out, Kekalainen might be lucky to pry away a prominent center from another team. I expect he’ll try to add one experienced center and hope for improvement from Domi, Roslovic and Texier next season, perhaps with a new coach behind the bench if John Tortorella doesn’t return.

TSN’s Darren Dreger believes Kekalainen will try his best to bring in a top-line center for winger Patrik Laine next season. That would be a costly undertaking during the best of seasons. It could prove more difficult under a flattened salary cap.

Boston’s David Krejci and Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are the best centers in this summer’s UFA market. At 35, Krejci is at the tail end of his career and best suited for second-line duty. Nugent-Hopkins is a versatile two-way forward but I don’t see him as a first-line center.

Cap Friendly shows the Jackets have $56.5 million invested in 16 players for 2021-22. Kekalainen could target a cap-strapped club trying to shed salary. However, re-signing Laine (an RFA with arbitration rights this summer) will bite deeply into that cap space, perhaps as much as $8 million. It’ll take $7.5 million to qualify his right.

TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the Vancouver Canucks haven’t put a new offer on the table for head coach Travis Green. He wants to stay and the Canucks want to keep him. Green is earning $1 million per season, which is in the lower third among NHL head coaches. LeBrun speculates it could take around $2.5 million to get it done.

Darren Dreger reports the Carolina Hurricanes hope to get head coach Rod Brind’Amour under contract before the playoffs begin. Management seems confident it will get a deal done soon.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Brind’Amour has turned the Hurricanes into a Stanley Cup contender in just three seasons. They’re on the verge of winning their first-ever Presidents’ Trophy.

Dreger also reports Arizona Coyotes bench boss Rick Tocchet could be moving on at the end of this season. His sources indicated Tocchet is more likely to test the open market this summer.

AFTONBLADET: Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson could return to HV71 Jonkoping of the Swedish Hockey League after 14 NHL seasons. Hjalmarsson, 33, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He spent three seasons with HV71 before starting his NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007-08.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The report doesn’t rule out Hjalmarsson staying in the NHL if he gets an offer he can’t resist or if the tax situation makes it difficult for him to play in Sweden this autumn.










Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – May 2, 2021

Is an offseason shakeup in store for the Rangers?  Is Alec Martinez any closer to re-signing with the Golden Knights? What’s the latest on Rod Brind’Amour’s contract talks with the Hurricanes? Find out in the Sunday NHL rumor roundup.

NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks recently suggested the Rangers could face an offseason shakeup following Thursday’s season-crushing 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders. He singled out marquee players such as Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad as well as the leadership group and head coach David Quinn.

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (NHL Images).

Brooks pointed out the lack of production from the Rangers’ core players (Panarin, Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, Chris Kreider and Ryan Strome) against the Isles throughout this season, combining for just one goal against their rival. He feels the Rangers lack the mentality and personnel to adjust against a tight-checking opponent.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Brooks wasn’t as harsh in his assessment of the Rangers’ 3-0 loss to the Islanders on Saturday, perhaps because, as he pointed out, that loss felt inevitable. He did, however, suggest the Rangers lacked the physical presence to deal with rugged Islanders winger Matt Martin. He noted the Blueshirts attempted to sign Martin during the offseason before he returned to the Isles on a four-year deal.

The Rangers could make some offseason changes, perhaps behind the bench as well as in the lineup. There’s no shortage of former NHL coaches who’d relish the opportunity of coaching the promising Blueshirts. Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien and Bruce Boudreau could be among the potential candidates.

As for the roster, Cap Friendly shows the Rangers have $55.6 million invested in 17 players for 2021-22. Buchnevich and goaltender Igor Shesterkin are their notable free agents, with both being RFAs holding arbitration rights. Filip Chytil, Brett Howden, Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek are coming off their entry-level contracts.

The Blueshirts have sufficient cap space to re-sign their key free agents and perhaps have some space to tap into the UFA market to add some toughness to their lineup. They could, however, forego an expensive signing by going the trade route.

Zibanejad and Strome are one year away from unrestricted free agent eligibility. Their names popped up in trade speculation in the recent past and could surface in the offseason if management decides core changes are needed.

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: David Schoen recently reported there haven’t been any contract talks between the Vegas Golden Knights and Alec Martinez. The 33-year-old defenseman is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Martinez is hopeful this season won’t be his last with the Golden Knights. He has 27 points on the season and averages over 22 minutes per game. General manager Kelly McCrimmon acknowledged the blueliner’s value to the lineup, adding talks will happen when appropriate and declined to comment further.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Martinez is completing a six-year, $24 million contract and turns 34 in July. His age will work against him getting a significant raise. So will the Golden Knights’ limited cap space. They have $75.4 million invested in 17 players next season. He’ll have to accept at least the same annual cap hit on a short-term deal to stay in Vegas, and only if they can free up some cap room.

SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reports one of the biggest issues in the Carolina Hurricanes contract negotiations with head coach Rod Brind’Amour is he wants contract extensions for his coaching, training and equipment staffs. Like Brind’Amour, their respective contracts expire at the end of this season.

Friedman believed Brind’Amour will re-sign with the Hurricanes. However, he’s made it clear the future of his staff is as important as his own.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Brind’Amour was a team guy during his playing days. That attitude has carried over into his coaching career. Given the success he’s had turning the Hurricanes within three years from an also-ran to a Stanley Cup contender, he’s justified in wanting to keep his staff intact.