And All the Wings’ Horses and All the Wings’ Men…


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By Jeffrey Otto
Detroit Red Wings Writer
Washington Capitals Writer
 . . . wondered how they’d get to the Playoffs again.
Pavel Datsyuk, the Magic Man of Hockeytown, left Detroit for the KHL last month, leaving a tremendous vacuum in his wake.  Hockey, like nature, hates a vacuum and seeks to fill it.  The problem is, how many players, and at what price, would it take to fill such a void as the one left by Datsyuk’s departure?  The hockey world quickly agreed that acquiring soon-to-be-UFA Steve Stamkos from the Lighting would be the perfect filler.  Oddly enough, nobody informed Stamkos of this; not only did he not sign with Detroit, he didn’t even give them a seat at the table of the teams with whom he spoke before re-upping with the Bolts.  “Oh bother,” as Winnie the Pooh likes to say.
All was not lost, however.  On July 1 the Wings signed free agent Islander center Frans Nielsen to a six year deal.  Nielsen is no Datsyuk, but he will go a long way in filling that void that Datsyuk left behind.  The 32 year-old Dane was the first from his country to be drafted into the NHL and leads all NHL Danes in scoring.  According to the Wings’ official website, Nielsen is the NHL’s all-time leader in shootout goals with 42, including 17 shootout-deciding goals, and his 51.2 shootout percentage is fifth-best all-time among players with 20-or-more shots.  On top of that, in his 606 NHL games he has only totaled 112 penalty minutes!  How many times during the Playoffs did you hear “stay out of the penalty box” as one of the keys to winning the game at hand?  Nielsen has only missed seven games since the 2011-12 season. The ability of players to stay healthy is arguably as much a factor of success as is skill; you can’t play if you’re broken (just ask Stamkos).  Sports Nation SB writer Pat Iversen called Nielsen “the best center on the free agent market” and noted that Nielsen “can help Detroit’s power play, bolster their penalty kill and keep their second line chugging along at a productive pace.”  Not to mention the leadership and Playoff experience he’ll bring to the locker room.
That same day, Detroit re-signed two of its own:   center Darren Helm to a five-year contract and defenseman Alexey Marchenko to a two-year contract.  Following that, they signed free agent left wing Thomas Vanek to a one-year contract.  Vanek, 32, has amassed 649 points (316-333-649) in 817 games over his 11-year NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild.  The 2009 NHL All-Star has also totaled 34 points (20-14-34) in 63 Stanley Cup Playoff games.  Vanek’s accolades are impressive and he should prove to be a very smart pick-up for the Red Wings, albeit only for one year. “He definitely has all the talent, he can score goals, he’s good on the power play,” said former Islander and now once again teammate Frans Nielsen.  “He’s definitely gonna bring some offense, he played with (John) Tavares and (Kyle) Okposo here on a line and when he’s on his game he’s up there with Tavares skill wise. He could be the steal of this free agency.“  Unless Nielsen himself is.
Later that same day, Detroit acquired Blues forward Steve Ott on a one year deal.  A hamstring injury limited Ott to just 21 games last season, but he returned to the lineup during the playoffs for nine games, tallying one assist and eight penalty minutes.  All told, Ott has logged 795 games, 281 points and 1,475 penalty minutes in his 13 year NHL career, playing for the Stars, Sabres and Blues.  “I play a hard style of game, obviously I try to compete extremely hard and make other compete,” Ott was quoted as saying on the Wings’ official website. “I’m a depth guy later on in my career but I’m somebody who can play center, take face offs, I’ve always been one of the top guys on our penalty-killing team every single year.”  He also brings leadership experience, having captained the Sabres and served as an alternate captain for the Blues.  Ott is versatile and should be able to play all three forward spots as a bottom-six contributor.  His gritty, agitating style of play will be a welcome addition to the Detroit line-up.
None of these players, individually or collectively, will replace Pavel Datsyuk, and no one with any hockey sense would expect such.  It might be best thought of as the Red Wings “transitioning to a new season” just as they had to when Gordy Howe said good-bye to Detroit.  The next few years will prove to be transitional indeed:  Datsyuk is gone, Nielsen begins a six year stint, Athanasiou and Larkin are up-and-coming, Zetterberg is approaching retirement, and Vanek and Ott are only on board for one year.  It should be an exciting one year in Hockeytown, as the old guard and new guard team up to give the Joe Lewis Arena an appropriate send off in its final season.  And it goes without saying that there could be no better send off than to raise the Stanley Cup one final time under Joe’s hallowed roof.
*Petr Mrazek was re-signed by Detroit after this article was written.
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Trust the Yzerplan


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By Joseph Justice

Tampa Bay Lightning Writer

 

Trust the Yzerplan. That is the mantra down here in Tampa when it comes to personnel decisions. Since taking the position of General Manager in 2010, Steve Yzerman has shaped and reshaped the roster with a clear determination to build a winning organization. The results have been solid as the team has made at least the conference finals in three of his six seasons. Even with those results, faith in Stevie Y hit an all-time high when he won this year’s free agent frenzy by not losing. Yet.

 

Signing All-Star forward, and face of the franchise, Steven Stamkos to a manageable deal was almost too good to be true. Yzerman followed up by extending defenseman Victor Hedman long term. Both deals look like masterstrokes within the Yzerplan. However, the team will face major salary cap implications next offseason when key contributors Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Brian Boyle, Jonathan Drouin, and Ben Bishop all become free agents. And here is where Yzerman took a gamble. About an hour after the announcement of the Hedman extension, the Lightning announced another extension. Andrei Vasilevskiy, with a year left to go on his entry level contract, was given a three year extension at 3.5 million a season.

 

Hindsight is going to make an interesting bedfellow for this deal. The contract most likely signals that Ben Bishop is headed out the door in Tampa. A combination of cap space and the pending Las Vegas expansion draft apparently leave him as one of the odd men out. The 21-year-old Russian net minder is coming off a well-reviewed effort in the conference finals, and clearly possesses a ton of natural talent. But will that talent translate into a consistent starting goaltender? The point is that three or four years from now this extension will either look spectacular or terrible.

 

The body of work for Vasilevskiy is quite limited. He has only started in 34 NHL games, and about the same amount for the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. As someone who had never played on North American ice until two years ago, it means he is probably still adapting to the game. His raw numbers have been good, and due to Ben Bishop’s playoff injuries, He has even appeared in 12 playoff games (7 as the starter). However, his limited body of work makes predicting his future difficult at best. Here are a few past examples for comparison:
Player Starts Record Save % GAA
Goalie A 34 18-15-1 .913 2.60
Goalie B 28 16-13-2 .914 2.53
Goalie C 19 24-14-2 .909 2.34
Goalie D 34 10-13-4 .912 2.62
Goalie E 28 10-10-4 .916 2.55

 

Vasilevskiy is Goalie A, all the other goalies had fairly comparable bodies of work as all as backups. They all ended up as starters for the Lightning as well. They are, in order, Anders Lindback, Mike Smith, Dan Cloutier, and Marc Denis. It would be fair to say none of them worked out. That isn’t to say the same fate awaits Vasilevskiy, who is likely more talented than anyone in that group, it is simply to say that it is very difficult to predict what will happen when he becomes the full time starter.

 

Trust the Yzerplan, that is the mantra down here. Yzerman has earned that trust, but thanks to Vegas, he had to roll the dice on one of the most important decisions in franchise history. Now we wait to see how they land.

Buffalo Intent on Landing Stamkos


By Chris Chilelli
Staff Writer

Tim Murray has always been known as a very honest General Manager. He showed that was the case again on Saturday, letting the hockey world know that the Buffalo Sabres are coming for pending unrestricted free agent, Steven Stamkos. At this point, it seems like every team in the league has been linked to the former 60-goal scorer, but it feels a bit different with the Sabres.
What I mean when I say this is that the Sabres finally have a core of players that would be enticing to a superstar in his prime. Everyone knows about Jack Eichel and what he was able to do last season as a rookie, but he is far from the only attractive piece that the Sabres boast. Look no further than the player who was the number two overall pick just one-year prior in Sam Reinhart. Reinhart also had a stellar rookie year last season scoring 23 goals, finishing second on the team behind Eichel. The scary thing about this duo of number two picks is that they will only get better.

There is more to Buffalo than these stud rookies, as we haven’t even mentioned Ryan O’Reilly and the 60 points he scored in his first season with the club last year. O’Reilly is the type of player that plays in all situations and just exudes leadership. He is another key building block for Buffalo and for a guy like Steven Stamkos to look at and see that Buffalo is serious about winning now and for the next decade. Another player that Buffalo has is stud in the making defender, Rasmus Ristolainen. Ristolainen had a career year last year scoring 41 points, while logging over 25 minutes of ice per night for the blue and gold.

I could go on all day about the young nucleus Tim Murray has built, but let’s look at it from the perspective of Buffalo and their interest in the star center. There have been rumors ever since the 2015 draft that Tim Murray tried to trade the Jack Eichel pick to Tampa for Steven Stamkos, he has never publicly said that is the case, but it has been reported for quite some time. That obviously shows how much Tim Murray covets this player and what he brings to the ice. Then you factor in Terry Pegula and his willingness to spend to the cap to bring the city of Buffalo a winner. Pegula has been a Buffalo sports fan his entire life and he has shown in the past with Mike Babcock that he will not be outbid.
This is where you have to factor in the quotes from Tim Murray about how he believes that you can win with players making $11-$12 million per season in a cap era. He believes that you have to get the top-flight talent and then move the other pieces to make it work. Buffalo, at this point, is not short on top-flight talent with Eichel, Reinhart, O’Reilly, Ristolainen, Evander Kane, etc. but Steven Stamkos could truly put this team over the top. For the longest time, Buffalo has been a joke in terms of trying to lure free agents, but Pegula has spent millions of dollars trying to make Buffalo a destination for players.

Buffalo might not get the result they are looking for when it comes to Steven Stamkos, but there is no doubt that it won’t be for a lack of trying. I truly expect Buffalo to give Stamkos the highest dollars per year, and in my opinion, the best chance to win long term. Buffalo isn’t far off now, he could be the final piece to the puzzle that puts the Sabres back into the playoffs, and maybe one day he will lead them to the Stanley Cup Championship this city and market so desperately craves.

 

Photo Credit: USA Today

Steven Stamkos Free Agency Destinations


By Bobby Bauders
Senior Writer/Editor

Steven Stamkos is probably done in Tampa Bay, unless General Manager Steve Yzerman can somehow get a deal worked out and still be able to re-sign his massive load of impending free agents next offseason. More info on that here: Where’s Steven Stamkos going?

Given the likelihood of Stamkos hitting the open market, let’s explore where the 26-year-old center may end up. We’ll look at the front runners, and then some surprising dark horses.

 

Front Runners:

Toronto Maple Leafs:

First of all, Stamkos will not sign with the Leafs. Sorry Toronto fans, but you’re getting your future number 1 center in Auston Matthews. If Stamkos hits the open market he’s going to be the most sought after free agent in recent memory, including teams who are MUCH closer to the Stanley Cup than Toronto. The Maple Leafs are rebuilding, they’re not in win-now mode, and won’t be for a few years. Stay patient Leafs fans, your time will be here soon. Now the Maple Leafs would be able to offer Stamkos a very lucrative salary with the Phaneuf cap dump, but I just can’t see Stamkos signing with someone who is as far away from the Stanley Cup as Toronto is. As wonderful of a fairy tale story this may be to bring hometown boy Stamkos back to Toronto, I just don’t see it happening.

 

Detroit Red Wings:

With the departure of Pavel Datsyuk back to Russia, the Detroit Red Wings are going to need a first line center. The Red Wings are significantly closer to the Cup than the Maple Leafs are, being that they were just in the playoffs whereas Toronto posted the worst record in the league. Still, with the cap situation, it may be difficult to get a deal worked out with Stamkos. Detroit is still liable for Datsyuk’s contract until next year, which carries a $7.5 million cap hit. Unless the Wings find a way to trade Datsyuk’s contract, which will cost them valuable draft picks/prospects, Stamkos will not be coming to Detroit. Not to mention that Stamkos is still fairly young, and the Red Wings are showing many signs of slowing down, and may not be in contention much longer.

 

Montreal Canadiens:

The Montreal Canadiens have emerged as another front runner. I can’t really imagine why as they’d be in cap hell. Before re-signings that would occur, they currently have about $7 million in cap space. That in itself isn’t even enough to sign Stamkos as he’ll require at least $8.5 million. Not to mention that Alex Galchenyuk is a RFA next season and will want more than what he’s currently making at $2.8 million. The only way if the Habs sign Stamkos is if they trade either Andrei Markov or Jeff Petry or both, but I don’t see many GMs knocking down Marc Bergevin’s door in order to acquire either of them.

 

Buffalo Sabres:

This is another interesting option. Stamkos should be interested in Buffalo because of their ability to pay him and their bright future, but I don’t see why Buffalo would be inrested in Stamkos, quite frankly because of their bright future. They have offensive prospect after offensive prospect in the Sabres system. Buffalo should stay patient with their current crop, which will bring them a lot of success in the future. Overloading on one position hardly ever works in the long run, as it really strains a team’s cap situation. I don’t see the point in this franchise log jamming the center position with Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Zemgus Girgensons. Yes some of those players can play on the wing, including Stamkos if you think about it with his sniping ability, but Buffalo already has plenty of forward prospects. But you know what, if Tim Murray has a plan for how Buffalo will deal with this log jam, I say go for it. It’s not easy to not offer Stamkos a contract when he’s there for anyone’s taking. Should they sign Stamkos, Buffalo will have to decide on their number 1 and number 2 centers, and then either trade the rest or move them to the wing.

 

Dark Horses:

Arizona Coyotes:

I know I said that Stamkos won’t want  to sign with Toronto because of their distance from the Cup, and the Coyotes may look just as far away, but they’re not. Without Stamkos, I predicted they’d be in the playoffs in 3 years. Not saying they’re winning the Cup in 3 years, but they’ll be a serious threat. Adding Stamkos to the mix? Wow. The Coyotes recently hired a new GM who will be eager to place his stamp on the team. What better way to do that than signing Steven Stamkos? I’m not saying he’ll sign with the Coyotes, it’ll be a tough sale given their shaky arena situation, but they do have a selling point in their prospect pool. And they have the cap room, around $30 million currently available. GM John Chayka should at the very least contact the Stamkos camp and gauge their interest when talks can start on June 25th.

 

Boston Bruins:

Now the Bruins are quite loaded at the center position with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, but Stamkos will likely listen to offers. That’s why I’m including them: they’re one of the only decent teams with anywhere near enough cap room. They currently sit at around $18.5 million, but have to think about re-signing Loui Eriksson. But that’s a whole different story, as Boston and the Eriksson camp have been talking for months reports say that there hasn’t been any progress. So if Boston decides to let Eriksson walk or trade his rights, hello Stamkos?

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning:

Tampa Bay is the definition of dark horse in this situation. I don’t see how they can re-sign Stamkos, it’s just not realistic given next year’s cap situation. Steve Yzerman would have to work a miracle. The reason I’m listing them is because Tampa is still trying to figure out how they can re-sign him, but it doesn’t seem likely at this point.