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.

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Top 25 NHL Free Agents 2016


By Bobby Bauders

Senior Writer/Editor

 

NOTE: This list is assuming that all these players are not re-signed by their respective teams. Of course many of them will of course re-sign.

 

1) Steven Stamkos – F

Age: 26

Last Contract: $5.5M – Tampa Bay Lightning

 

2) Kyle Okposo – F

Age: 28

Last Contract: $4.5M – New York Islanders

 

3) Milan Lucic – F

Age: 28

Last Contract: $3.25M – Los Angeles Kings

 

4) Loui Eriksson – F

Age: 30

Last Contract: $4.5M – Boston Bruins

 

5) Andrew Ladd – F

Age: 30

Last Contract: $4.5M – Chicago Blackhawks

 

6) Mikkel Boedker – F

Age: 26

Last Contract: $3.75M – Colorado Avalanche

 

7) David Backes – F

Age: 32

Last Contract: $4.75M – St. Louis Blues

 

8) David Perron – F

Age: 28

Last Contract: $4.5M – Anaheim Ducks

 

9) Frans Nielsen – F

Age: 32

Last Contract: $3M – New York Islanders

 

10) Jason Demers – D

Age: 28

Last Conract: $3.65M – Dallas Stars

 

11) Jimmy Vesey – F

Age: 23

Last Contract: Entry-level Contract

 

12) Troy Brouwer – F

Age: 30

Last Contract: $3.75M – St. Louis Blues

 

13) Dan Hamhuis – D

Age: 33

Last Contract: $3.25M – Vancouver Canucks

 

14) Brian Campbell – D

Age: 37

Last Contract: $7.143M – Florida Panthers

 

15) Kris Russell – D

Age: 29

Last Contract: $2.35M – Dallas Stars

 

16) James Reimer – G

Age: 28

Last Contract: $2M – San Jose Sharks

 

17) Lee Stempniak – F

Age: 33

Last Contract: $0.850M – Boston Bruins

 

18) Eric Staal – F

Age: 31

Last Contract: $9.5M – New York Rangers

 

19) Jamie McGinn – F

Age: 27

Last Contract: $3M – Anaheim Ducks

 

20) Jiri Hudler – F

Age: 32

Last Contract: $4M – Florida Panthers

 

21) Shane Doan – F

Age: 39

Last Contract: $4.45M – Arizona Coyotes

 

22) Luke Schenn – D

Age: 26

Last Contract: $1.675M – Los Angeles Kings

 

23) Justin Schultz – D

Age: 25

Last Contract: $3.9M – Pittsburgh Penguins

 

24) Darren Helm – F

Age: 29

Last Contract: $2.5M – Detroit Red Wings

 

25) Radim Vrbata – F

Age: 35

Last Contract: $4M – Vancouver Canucks

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

Rick Nash Moving to Cali?


By Bobby Bauders
Senior Writer/Editor

Just like everyone else, I have no idea what’s going on in Jeff Gorton’s head. He’s made some pretty questionable decisions, like past Ranger management. But one has the assume the New York Rangers will be shopping Rick Nash who just hasn’t produced as they would like. The Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks are rumored to be front runners in the Nash sweepstakes. Also, keep in mind Nash’s modified No Trade Clause, which states he can accept a trade to 12 teams he lists. That lowers the number of suitors.

 

If Nash is traded, he’s going to need replaced. And in free agency I just don’t see how it can be done. It’s rumored that the Rangers are looking at Stamkos, but I just don’t see that happening with their cap and the fact that Buffalo is rumored to be offering $12M.

 

In 60 games played this season, Nash scored 15 goals and 36 points. In the 5 games the Rangers played in the playoffs against the Stanley Cup Champion, Pittsburgh Penguins, Nash scored 2 goals and 2 assists.

 

Anaheim Ducks:

The Ducks are clearly interested in another forward. Rick Nash would be an interesting addition given his power forward style of play, which fits Anaheim’s style of play. But one has to wonder, with a new coach (sort of) and failures with the previous system, shouldn’t they go a different route?

 

The rumored price would be Cam Fowler. Straight up that makes sense for the Rangers. Not for the Ducks though. Fowler is pretty young and is still growing, and giving him up for an aging Nash who hasn’t produced, doesn’t seem likely. Maybe they could throw in a 3rd Round Pick. Although Gorton probably isn’t keen on that idea considering the Rangers have no 1st or 2nd Round Picks.

 

Hampus Lindholm’s name has come up as well. With the signing of Sami Vatanen to a 4-year $19.5M deal, that pretty much leaves Lindholm as the odd man out as an RFA against Anaheim’s struggling cap. That’s why Fowler is the most logical solution in a trade. Although, Lindholm’s rights could be traded away soon as a deal doesn’t seem very possible unless Anaheim decides to give up on forwards such as David Perron and Chris Stewart.

 

San Jose Sharks:

The Sharks are another team rumored to be interested. The defending Western Conference Champion is disappointed to say the least they couldn’t bring Lord Stanley to Northern California, and will be making changes to try and bring it home next year. Could this change also involve Nash? San Jose has a similar power forward system as Anaheim, only it seems to be working finally in San Jose. So they’ll be expected to stick with it.

 

The only player I can see San Jose wanting to trade is Paul Martin. He’s 35-years-old and has a cap hit of $4.85M. Not that he’s a bad player, but his cap hit is a little extreme. Plus, New York is looking for defense.

 

The other assets we should point most of our focus towards in San Jose’s 2nd Round Pick this year, and their 1st Round Pick next year. As stated previously, New York has no 1st or 2nd Round Picks this year. That means they may be looking for one. Maybe next year’s 1st plus Paul Martin for Rick Nash? Some might say that’s a bit pricey given Nash’s performance. They might also throw in this year’s 2nd if New York is willing to give up a 3rd. But then that leaves San Jose without 1st or 2nd Round Picks this year, which is something General Manager Doug Wilson would not want to do.

 

I don’t see any Nash trade happening very easily. I see Gorton wanting to shop him, but his value has gone down significantly, don’t expect the best return Ranger fans.

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.

Where’s Steven Stamkos going?


By Bobby Bauders
Senior Writer/Editor

Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is in quite a predicament with Steven Stamkos. Obviously losing talent like that can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if he walks for nothing.

Currently without Stamkos, Tampa’s cap situation sits at round $19 million. That doesn’t seem so bad. The problem isn’t this year, it’s next year. The following players will need to be re-signed next offseason, and it’s safe to say they’ll all want substantial raises: Tyler Johnson (RFA), Ondrej Palat (RFA), Jonathan Drouin (RFA), Victor Hedman (UFA), Ben Bishop (UFA), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (RFA). Although it’s safe to say Bishop will probably be dealt soon or by the next trade deadline, given the expansion situation. All these re-signings, plus a rumored $8.5 million cap hit for Stamkos will make it impossible to keep every single player.

This poses another question: Is it worth it to keep Stamkos? Stamkos was sidelined in April due to blood clots, and missed all playoff games except for Game 7 against Pittsburgh. The Bolts made the Eastern Conference Final, and had the eventual Stanley Cup Champions on the brink of elimination without Stamkos. So why should you break the bank and break up the group of players who have proven they can win together? Obviously Stamkos makes Tampa Bay better, but they’ve proven they can survive, and even thrive without him.

SO let’s assume Yzerman does re-sign Stamkos. Some key players, including Stamkos, will have to be moved either at the deadline or next year’s draft. Yzerman isn’t very keen to the idea of letting any quality player walk for nothing. If any Stamkos deal is to be done, it would likely be at next year’s draft in order to sign the core of the Tampa squad.

Stamkos is very aware of the cap situation next year. This is likely the reason a deal hasn’t been reached yet: he knows he’ll probably be moved next offseason. If he walks he can at least choose where he plays. Obviously a contract would have some sort of no movement clause, but even with a list of acceptable teams provided by Stamkos, Yzerman will still make the final decision.

Steven Stamkos becomes an UFA on July 1st, and teams can start contacting him on June 25th. If a deal isn’t worked out Tampa by the draft, expect Stamkos to test the free agent waters.

As for whoever signs Stamkos, they’ll be a lucky team. Rumored interest comes from the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, and a few other dark horses.

GM John Chayka not Done in Arizona


By Bobby Bauders

Senior Writer/Editor

 

John Chayka was hired as the 8th General Manager in Coyotes/Jets franchise history on May 5, 2016. Coyotes have struggled since losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 Western Conference Final. So, a new GM in Arizona may not come as a surprise. What does come as a surprise is the fact that the new GM is 27-years-old, the youngest in National Hockey League history.

 

Given his young age, and given the the volume of his new job, Chayka will likely be eager to place his stamp on the franchise.

 

Chayka has already been active in the trade market, trading for the negotiation rights for defenseman Alex Gologoski.

 

Don’t expect Chayka to be done. The Coyotes finished 7th in the league, and improvements need to be made. An all around upgrade could be due for the franchise. Mike Smith is currently the starting goaltender. One can see how they may need to upgrade there.

 

Some potential targets for goalie may include Marc-Andre Fleury and Ben Bishop who may be on their way out of Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay respectively.

 

Names like Steven Stamkos, Eric Staal, Keith Yandle, and David Backes are all set to become UFAs should their respective teams choose not to re-sign them.

 

With than in mind, and a desire for success, Chayka could be in for a fairly busy summer and free agency.

 

Most have reported that Stamkos is mainly looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings. It would be interesting to see if Chayka would at least kick tires on acquiring Stamkos’ rights or acquiring Stamkos in free agency. Stamkos could definitely fill seats in the desert.