NHL Last Lap: Jumbo Joe Thornton Searches for Elusive Stanley Cup
Jets re-sign Blake Wheeler plus updates on Zdeno Chara, Matt Duchene, Josh Morrissey and more in your NHL morning coffee headlines
WINNIPEG SUN: The Jets yesterday re-signed captain Blake Wheeler to a five-year, $41.25-million contract extension. The new deal, worth an annual average value of $8.25 million and also contains a full no-movement clause in its first three seasons, goes into effect next July.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Wheeler, who tallied a career-high 91 points last season, is the Jets highest-paid player, though he’ll likely cede that honor to Patrik Laine next summer. Keeping Wheeler out of next summer’s UFA market was expensive but that’s the price the Jets had to pay to keep him in the fold.
After years in sometimes painful roster building the Jets are now Stanley Cup contenders. Wheeler was a big part of that and no one can blame him for wanting to stay put, even if he might’ve received more money on perhaps a longer deal on the open market.
Wheeler, however, will turn 33 during the first year of that new contract. It’s unlikely the Jets will get full value for their money as his play inevitably declines. Still, if he can help keep them in Cup contention for the first two or three years of the deal they’ll consider it money well spent.
The biggest problem, however, is how much this contributes to their coming salary-cap crunch next summer. I’ll have more on that later this morning in the Rumors section.
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Speaking of the Jets, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff expects to have restricted free agent defenseman Josh Morrissey under contract by the time training camp opens next week. Sources say the Morrissey camp prefers a short-term deal while the Jets are pushing for a loftier term. That might result in Morrissey getting something between $5-$6 million per season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Morrissey’s representatives prefer a short-term deal because they feel their client could be in line for a significant raise on his next contract. The Jets prefer a long-term deal for what could ultimately prove to be a bargain over the long term should Morrissey reach his full potential.
THE BOSTON GLOBE: Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara won’t be joining his teammates during their upcoming trip to China so as to avoid the rigors of 12-hour flights on his 41-year-old body. Other Bruins staying in Boston include “Patrice Bergeron and Noel Acciari (both recovering from postseason groin surgeries), and defenseman Torey Krug (broken left ankle in May). Sean Kuraly and Danton Heinen, who served ambassadorships to China in July, will not return for a second trip.”
The Bruins have also invited defenseman Mark Fayne to training camp on a tryout basis.
OTTAWA SUN: Senators center Matt Duchene said he’s unconcerned over his contract status entering this season, focusing instead on helping the club turns things around following a disappointing 2017-18. Duchene is a year away from unrestricted free agent status and remains open to re-signing with the club. He adds he’s spoken with general manager Pierre Dorion several times this summer regarding the direction of the team.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t doubt Duchene’s sincerity about staying in Ottawa but let’s see if he still feels the same way if the Senators have another lousy season.
Speaking of the Senators, they’ve brought back Chris Kelly as a development coach. He spent eight of his 14 NHL seasons with the Senators before retiring at the end of last season.
THE BUFFALO NEWS: Sabres forward Sam Reinhart said he’s focused on the upcoming season and not his contract. The restricted free agent is leaving negotiations with the club up to his agent as he prepares for training camp.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As with Morrissey, the holdup could be over the length of Reinhart’s new contract.
NEW YORK POST: The Rangers will honor former Blueshirt Vic Hadfield by raising his No. 11 to the rafters of Madison Square Garden in a pre-game ceremony on Dec. 2. He spent 13 of his 16 NHL seasons with the Rangers from 1961-62 to 1973-74, rallying 20-or-more goals seven times, including a 50-goal campaign in 1971-72. The Rangers also announced they’ve hired Steve Konowalchuk as an amateur scout working primarily in the WHL.
TSN: Free-agent goaltender Jeff Glass will join the Calgary Flames on a professional tryout offer.
SPORTSNET’s Eric Francis reports Zach O’Brien and Justin Falk will also have tryouts with the Flames.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: The keepers of the Stanley Cup are now politely requesting the Washington Capitals no longer do “keg stands” with the trophy. While the Capitals have treated the Cup with respect and reverence, there is concern that a player might inadvertently get hurt or the trophy could get damaged.
Game recaps, Ducks and Kings clinch playoff berths, injury updates and more in your NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: For the sixth consecutive year, the Anaheim Ducks have clinched a playoff berth. Ondrej Kase snapped a 1-1 tie early in the third period and Andrew Cogliano got the insurance goal to give the Ducks a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild. With 97 points, the Ducks sit third in the Pacific Division, one point behind the San Jose Sharks.
The St. Louis Blues’ playoff hopes suffered another blow as they fell 4-3 to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues remains stuck at 92 points, one behind the Colorado Avalanche for the final wild-card berth in the Western Conference. Both teams have two games left, including a season-ending showdown with each other on Saturday.
The Blues’ loss also ensured the idle Los Angeles Kings clinched a playoff berth. The Kings (96 points) hold the first Western Conference wild-card berth, sitting fourth in the Pacific Division.
The Buffalo Sabres are assured of finishing last in the NHL’s overall standings after dropping a 3-2 decision to the Ottawa Senators. The Sabres have the best odds (18.5 percent) of winning the 2018 NHL Draft Lottery on April 28. Speaking of the Sabres, forward Zemgus Girgensons’ season has come to an end after undergoing facial surgery on Wednesday.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sabres have the best odds but it’s no guarantee they’ll win the lottery. They were in the same position in 2014 and 2015 but the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers won the top picks. The Panthers selected Aaron Ekblad and the Oilers took Connor McDavid while the Sabres took Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel.
TSN: Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the game against the Sabres to spend time with his wife after their baby was stillborn two weeks ago. Sens coach Guy Boucher doesn’t expect Karlsson to participate in the club’s final two games of the season. The club also announced goaltender Mike Condon will miss the remainder of the schedule due to a concussion he suffered in practice on Tuesday and winger Marian Gaborik is also sidelined for the rest of the season with a back injury.
ARIZONA SPORTS: Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun will miss the remainder of the season with a lower-body injury.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Canadiens winger Nikita Scherbak has suffered a season-ending concussion.
TSN: Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard and Bobby Hull are among the notable players who won the Stanley Cup between 1954-1965 to have their names removed from the big mug. The ring containing the names of those teams and players is being removed to make room for a new layer of names. That band, along with previous ones that were removed, will reside on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This procedure is necessary to ensure the trophy doesn’t become too big for the players to carry.
It’s unlikely the NHL will ever again see a team as dominant as the Montreal Canadiens’ dynasty of the late-1970s.
Between 1975-76 to 1978-79, the Canadiens won four consecutive Stanley Cups. They had the league’s best record three times, including their record-setting ’76-’77 campaign in which they finished with 60 wins, only eight losses and 132 points.
Nine players – goaltender Ken Dryden, defensemen Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe and forwards Guy Lafleur, Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire, Steve Shutt and Bob Gainey – went on to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Head coach Scotty Bowman and general manager Sam Pollock are also in the Hall.
They also won an impressive array of individual hardware.
Dryden won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie in each season of the Habs dynasty, sharing the honor three times with backup Michel “Bunny” Larocque.
Lafleur won the Art Ross Trophy as leading scorer three straight seasons from ’75-’76 to ’77-’78 and the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP in ’76-’77 and ’77-’78.
Robinson took home the James Norris Memorial Trophy as top defenseman in ’76-77.
Gainey won the first two of his four consecutive Frank J. Selke Awards as the best defensive forward in ’77-’78 and ’78-’79.
Savard won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance in ’78-’79.
Lafleur (1977), Robinson (1978) and Gainey (1979) were awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Awards and honors, however, only tell part of the story of the Canadiens’ dominance during that era.
They almost always won. A loss was a rare occurance. Of their 320 regular-season games, they won 229, lost only 46 and tied 45.
Back then there was no overtime to settle tie games. Given their considerable talent, it’s likely they would’ve turned at least half of those 45 tied contests into victories.
They usually finished so far ahead of everyone else in the standings it was almost unfair. In ’75-’76, they had 127 points, nine more than the Philadelphia Flyers in the overall standings. In ’76-’77, their 132 points were 20 more than the Flyers’ 112. The next season, their 129 points were 16 more than the Boston Bruins’ 113. By each December, their Norris Division rivals (Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals) were usually left in the dust.
In the postseason, they were just as dominant, winning 48 of 58 playoff games. They were only pushed to seven games in a series once, in the 1979 semifinal against the Boston Bruins.
The Canadiens were more than just their stars. They also had an impressive supporting cast.
Underrated Pete Mahovlich centered the Habs top line in ’75-’76, finishing second with 105 points. The season prior, he notched 82 assists, a franchise record that still stands. Rejean Houle was a reliable 50-point winger. The unbreakable Doug Jarvis was among the league’s top faceoff men. Two-way forwards such as Yvon Lambert, Doug Risebrough and Mario Tremblay could put up points and shut down opposing forwards.
The blueline contained big, physical rearguards such as Gilles Lupien, Pierre Bouchard, Bill Nyrop, Rick Chartraw, Brian Engblom and, in 1978-79, a rookie who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Washington Capitals in Rod Langway.
Any style an opponent wanted to play, the Canadiens could exceed it. Play a run-and-gun and they outskated and outscored you. Employ a grind-it-out style and they would outwork you. Throw your weight around or try to bully their stars and they made you pay a physical toll that would also cost you on the score sheet.
I was a teenage Canadiens fan growing up in rural Nova Scotia during the late-1970s. Believe me, it was a special time to be a Habs follower.
Many of my friends and family members cheered for other clubs. Where I grew up, in the era before cable tv and the internet opened up the NHL to its fans, you either followed the Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs or Boston Bruins.
A couple of my friends rooted for the Flyers. One of my dad’s friends followed the New York Rangers. I had a cousin who was a New York Islanders fans, which at that time made him an oddity. He was more prescient than the rest of us, as the Isles succeeded the Habs in the early-1980s with a four-Cup dynasty of their own.
Most folks I knew back then were Leafs or Bruins fans. Every year, they would argue their teams were as good or better than the Canadiens. Every year, the Habs demolished those arguments and steamrollered their hopes. They don’t have fond memories of that period.
For me, however, it was glorious.
Whenever I tuned into Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights (or the French channel CBAFT if the Leafs were on the main CBC telecast that night) I knew the Habs were going to win. There were rarely any surprises over the outcome. There was no concern that a certain team could defeat them on any given night, no worries about a rival club threatening to unseat them as the league’s top dog. If you were a Canadiens fan in the late-’70s, it wasn’t a question of if they would win but how large the margin of victory would be.
Lafleur would dazzle with his patented end-to-end rushes. The speedy Cournoyer would leave opponents gasping in his wake. Shutt and Lemaire would score back-breaking goals. Meanwhile, Robinson, Savard, Lapointe and Gainey would shut down most of their opponent’s best lines. In the rare instances where a good scoring chance emerged, Dryden was there with a timely save. And on the rare instances where some of those players had an off-night, the supporting cast carried the day.
In the playoffs, there were friends and relatives who bet me the Canadiens would lose. The bets were pennyante stuff, a quarter or .50 cents during my junior-high years, up to a dollar during my first year of high school. One kid wagered my pick of his best hockey cards against mine. And every year, I cleaned up. By the time we got to the 1979 playoffs, it got difficult to find anyone willing to bet against the Habs.
Imagine being able to put together such a club like those late-’70s Canadiens today. Now stop imagining and return to the reality of today’s parity-driven, salary-cap NHL.
The Canadiens of that era were built during a time when players had considerably less bargaining power, with salaries well below what the average player earns today. It was also a period of rapid league expansion. Many of those new clubs sought rapid improvements, making them easy pickings for lopsided deals by the savvy Habs’ management.
Some NHL fans and pundits ocassionally pine for the good old days of dynastic teams, chiding the league for a salary-cap system they feel punishes successful franchises. But there was a downside to those dynasties like the Canadiens, and those of the Islanders and Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s.
During those years, the NHL consisted of one dominant team, perhaps half-a-dozen very good ones that still faced long odds upsetting the top dog, and a lot of average to horrible clubs that didn’t stand a chance at all. Unless you were a fan of the dominant club, you didn’t have much to look forward to. All you could do was pray your underdog team could pull off a rare upset.
For fans of the dynasty, it creates unrealistic expectations that last long after the glory years have passed. I got to the point where, by the turn of the 1980s, anything less than a Stanley Cup every season for the Canadiens was unacceptable. I was spoiled by their success.
It took over a decade following the Canadiens’ 1979 championship for me to accept that they couldn’t possibly win every year. It took another decade following their final championship in 1993 to remove the rose-colored glasses and realize, at long last, that they were just another team, that the glory days were long gone and winning the Cup would never be a certainty again.
Barring a significant change in how the league conducts its business, dynasties like those of the Canadiens, Islanders and Oilers will never happen again. And it’s probably for the best.
I’m still a Canadiens fan. I will always fondly remember those glory years of their last great dynasty.
Even though it’s now much harder for the Canadiens to win the Cup, even if it’s possible that it could be decades before then win another championship, I feel the NHL product is better without its dynasties.
It’s better for the NHL to be a much more competitive league. It’s better that the Stanley Cup doesn’t belong to one team for several years in a row. It’s better that it’s much harder to win consecutive championships.
When a team wins the Stanley Cup today, their fans are much appreciative. They acknowledge how much hard work it takes for their team to accomplish this feat. They cherish those championships and never take them for granted. It makes them all the more special.
The Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup, updates on next season’s salary cap & more in your NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.com: For the second straight year, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the Stanley Cup champions.
Matt Murray turned in a 27-save shutout performance while Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin scored late third-period goals to give the Penguins a 2-0 victory over the Nashville Predators in Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, winning the series four games to two.
For the second consecutive year, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
The game was not without some controversy, as an early second-period goal by Predators center Colton Sissons was overturned because the play was whistled dead by the referee, who lost sight of the puck just before Sissons scored. The Preds center also came close to scoring in the third, rattling a shot off the goalpost.
Sidelined Penguins center Nick Bonino revealed he suffered a broken tibia in his left leg during Game 2 of the series.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Penguins are the first team since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings to win consecutive Cup championships. In this day and age, that is a remarkable achievement.
Crosby joins Hall of Famers Bernie Parent and Mario Lemieux as the only players to win consecutive Conn Smythe Trophies. He also joins Parent, Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Patrick Roy (who won it three times) as the only players to win it twice. Crosby has his detractors but he’s firmly established himself as this generation’s greatest player.
This was a difficult loss for the Predators and their fans. However, their run to the Stanley Cup Final smashed the myth that Nashville wasn’t a hockey town. In my opinion, this isn’t a one-off for the Predators. Their window of opportunity is now wide open. They have the depth in talent to be a Cup contender for the next several years.
The deadline for teams to request players with no-movement clauses to waive them in order to be exposed in the upcoming NHL expansion draft is 5 pm ET today. Those player will have until 5 pm ET on June 16 to reach a decision.
The first contract buyout period begins on June 15. The deadline for teams to request players carrying NMCs whether they want to be placed on waivers for the purpose of contract buyouts is 11:59 am ET on June 15.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the following yesterday via Twitter regarding the NHLPA and its salary-cap escalator:
NHLPA internal debate is whether to apply full 5% inflator or some lesser number than 5 but greater than zero. Virtually no chance it’s 0.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 11, 2017
Outside of any growth prediction, or lack thereof, from NHL, a 2% inflator would add about $1.4M to the current upper limit.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 11, 2017
In any case, NHL is hoping NHLPA makes inflator decision no later than next 5 or 6 days. Everyone in hockey eager to see next season cap #.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 11, 2017