It seems that this summer Kyle Dubas has decided that if he’s gonna be damned, he’s gonna be damned for doing things the way he wants to do things. He’s gone with Greyhounds. He’s gone with underappreciated or miscast players, and now he’s moved onto statistical darlings…
Ondrej Kase signs a one-year contract with #leafs worth $1.25M.
Ondrej Kase, long adored for excelling at driving the play forward, Kaše has had his injury troubles throughout his career, and was limited to just three games last season, and hasn’t really played anywhere near a full season in his career. The right wing from the Czech Republic is 6’0 tall, and 190 lbs, and could line up with countryman David Kampf on the Leafs 3rd line this season, when healthy. When Kaše isn’t healthy, he creates an opportunity for players like Brooks, Robertson, and Anderson to dip their toes into the lineup as well, so he’s a reasonable risk to take, especially since he’s only 25.
As you can see from the chart above, Kase is pretty darn good in all situations, and if William Nylander is going to be utilized on the left wing going forward, you can see how Kaše’s play driving can benefit the top six, but also that his strong defensive understanding could add a bit more responsibility to the top six, especially with a line that has William Nylander on it, the idea of a winger playing low might not be a bad thing.
San Diego Gulls
San Diego Gulls
San Diego Gulls
The fact that Kaše comes with so a low cap hit, there still remains around $2.5M for the Leafs to address other needs as well. The Leafs are rumoured to be in discussion with Nick Ritchie as well, and coming away with a couple of the better young options from the Bruins bottom six isn’t a bad thing.
Kaše is low risk, potential high reward. If the Leafs decide to manage his health carefully and make sure he is fully recovered from his late concussion issues before bringing him into the lineup, Ondrej is 100% a found wallet and one that will help make the Leafs a tougher team to play against, and Kaše will certainly help with Toronto’s inability to cross the opposition blueline when Nylander wasn’t on the ice.
In short, it’s hard not to like this move, like the Michael Bunting signing, but there is still a need for the Leafs to do more.
After successfully improving the blue line, the Winnipeg Jets will likely spend the remainder of the off-season rounding out the rest of their roster, and they’ve taken a step in that direction as the team has signed forward Riley Nash to a one-year deal.
Making an official announcement Saturday afternoon, the Jets revealed they’ve acquired Nash, 32, on a one-year contract that’ll come with a $750,000 cap hit in 2021-22.
The #NHLJets have signed forward Riley Nash to a one-year contract!
After producing 10 goals and 33 points through 179 career games with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2018-2021, Nash was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the trade deadline this past season, however, a lower-body injury prevented him from appearing in a game until the playoffs.
Failing to make a meaningful impact during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the right-hander only appeared in a pair of games and averaged just 9:56 minutes of ice time, creating three hits, one block and losing seven of his 11 faceoff opportunities.
Set to enter the 11th season of his NHL career in 2021-22, Nash will almost certainly occupy a bottom-six role with the Jets and could potentially earn a chance to skate alongside forwards Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry on the third line, especially since that unit will require a right-handed shot with youngster Mason Appleton headed to the Seattle Kraken.
Winnipeg will open its preseason schedule against the Ottawa Senators on Sep. 26.
The dust from the annual free agency frenzy has settled and now we’re left to sift among the various deals that were signed. The biggest splash that was made by the Calgary Flames was the deal that brought winger Blake Coleman to town with a deal that will pay him $4.9 million annually between now and the 2026-27 season.
Once you dig into the contract deals, there’s a lot to like.
The deal structure
Via our friends at PuckPedia, here’s the broad strokes of Coleman’s deal.
2021-22: $3.9 million total pay ($2.9 million salary, $1 million signing bonus)
2022-23: $4.9 million total pay (all salary)
2023-24: $5.9 million total pay (all salary)
2024-25: $4.9 million total pay (all salary)
2025-26: $4.9 million total pay (all salary)
2027-27: $4.9 million total pay (all salary)
That’s right: almost all salary. Of the $29.4 million owed to him, only $1 million is signing bonuses. Compare that to Zach Hyman ($6.25 million of $38.5 million) and Phillip Danault ($14.5 million of $33 million), and Coleman’s bonuses seem incredibly low.
Heck, Sam Bennett’s new deal in Florida has as much signing bonuses in it as Coleman’s.
A buyout-friendly deal, if it comes to that…
One of the reasons why a deal that’s mostly salary is favourable for a team is simple: buyouts. Teams can buy out salary remaining, but not bonuses. Milan Lucic has a deal that’s chock full of bonus money, rather than salary, so the cap savings of buying him out are extremely minuscule compared to, say, James Neal’s.
Coleman’s deal is almost all salary, and entirely salary after the first season. He’ll turn 30 in November. If his playing style catches up to him by, say, age 33 or 34, the Flames can buy him out and the annual cap hit would be $1.633 million for twice as many years as he has remaining. By the time his fourth or fifth year rolls along, the NHL’s salary cap will be jumping up quite a bit – the escrow debt that the players owe will be paid off by then, allowing the full weight of the new American TV deals to hit the cap – and a tiny cap payment in the event of a Coleman buyout would be a pittance.
And maybe he doesn’t fall off at the end of his deal and this is a moot point. But the salary structure gives the Flames a lot of flexibility.
Originally reported by our pal Hailey Salvian over at The Athletic, Coleman’s deal has a full no-trade clause for the first three seasons and then a 10-team trade list for the last three years. Again, this bakes in a lot of flexibility for both player and team. (I’d be willing to guess that the team asked for the salary structure and the player requested some trade protection in exchange.)
Either way, like Jacob Markstrom’s deal last fall, the structure and clauses of Coleman’s new deal show a lot of cleverness and protections built in for both camps, which is definitely something that will keep players answering the phone when Brad Treliving calls to ask if they’d like to sign with the Flames in the future.
For better or for worse, it’s still early in the offseason and the Vancouver Canucks are already married to an updated and refurbished version of their defence corps.
Within the span of about 24 hours — and having already acquired Oliver Ekman-Larsson the week prior — the Canucks saw Nate Schmidt and Alex Edler depart, re-upped Travis Hamonic, and added all of Tucker Poolman, Luke Schenn, Brad Hunt, and Brady Keeper to the roster via free agency.
In doing so, Jim Benning and Co. have undoubtedly made the Vancouver blueline deeper — no more extended stints for the likes of Jalen Chatfield — and more balanced, with plenty of natural right shots to choose from.
They may have even made the blueline outright better than the 2021 edition, though some will quarrel with that assertion.
But it’s a long way to go from “better” to genuine domestic bliss on the backend, and there the Canucks are still coming up short. In particular, they’re still going to have a very difficult time matching their blueline up against the opposing top lines of the league.
In 2021, those difficult minutes went, somewhat by default, to Edler and Schmidt. Each of them started more than 60% of their shifts in the defensive zone and faced a quality of competition well over-and-above the league average, with almost half of their ice-time occurring against the likes of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews.
But although Edler and Schmidt were handed those minutes, it doesn’t mean that they handled them. After some initial success early in the 2021 season — during which time Edler was posting some of the best defensive metrics of his career — the strain got to both of them, and each saw their performance spiral by all measures.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that, by the end of the season, both were ready to move on.
And though Edler and Schmidt have departed, those tough minutes and matchups remain. Someone is going to have to play them. But who?
That really is the question.
On any wedding day, it’s important to know one’s good side from their bad, and the same can be said of analyzing the Canucks’ blueline for 2021/22, as succinctly summed up by this image:
We already know that, despite his exorbitant salary, Tyler Myers is not a player who should be put on the ice against the best the opposition has to offer. In certain circumstances, against slow and sizeable opponents, he can indeed do a little shutting down — like he did to Alex Tuch in the playoffs a year ago.
But against more swift and cerebral scorers, Myers is lost. As such, his deployment will still need to be sheltered as much as possible. At his price tag, putting Myers into a situation in which he can succeed is vital to the team’s overall success.
The same can be said, to a lesser extent, about Travis Hamonic. He was once considered a top-notch two-way defender, but his ability to face top lines has been greatly reduced in recent years. In 2021, he faced roughly average QoC and started more shifts in the offensive zone than the defensive, and he still ended up below water on goals against, possession, and especially high-danger scoring chances, which Hamonic’s team controlled just 36.61% of while he was on the ice at even-strength.
It’s tempting to attribute much of that to Hamonic playing most of his minutes alongside the struggling sophomore Quinn Hughes, but then how to explain the fact that Hughes’ numbers stayed relatively stable away from Hamonic, while Hamonic’s crumbled without Hughes?
While it remains possible that Hamonic could handle some difficult minutes — perhaps spelling someone off on occasion when the need strikes — it is also something that should be largely avoided by coach Travis Green.
Which brings us to the new kid on the right-side block, Tucker Poolman.
Aside from one of the cooler names in hockey, Poolman does arrive in Vancouver with at least a middling reputation as a defensive defender.
In 2021, he was asked to play most of his minutes on the Winnipeg top pairing alongside Josh Morrissey, often against opposing top lines.
The results were far from encouraging. Not only did Poolman’s offence disappear — going from a 24-point pace in 2019/20 to just a single assist through 39 games last year — his defensive metrics were well below what one would expect from a shutdown-type.
But there is still some reason for optimism in Poolman’s defensive chops — and there’d better be after the Canucks shelled out $10 million over four years for him.
For one, the Morrissey/Poolman pairing was still on the ice for more even-strength goals for than against. For two, Morrissey played notably worse without Poolman, while Poolman played far better and suppressed chances at a much greater rate when away from Morrissey, even if the goal-differential of that short sample size doesn’t quite bear that through.
Even better is that Poolman’s big and burly game seems naturally suited to the postseason.
Okay, I found my biggest reason yet to be optimistic about Tucker Poolman. In four playoff games against McDavid, Draisaitl, and the Oilers, Poolman was not scored against once at even-strength. Not once!#Canucks
Not getting scored on through a four-game sweep while playing regular minutes against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is impressive by any standard.
But, again, that’s a small sample size, and Poolman’s greater body of work — even within the context of two COVID-shortened seasons and an actual arduous battle with the virus — suggests he’s not quite the shutdown droid the Canucks are looking for. The lack of control over high-danger chances alone could mean the nightly potential for disaster.
Well, too bad, because he’s going to be getting those minutes anyway. That’s what the Canucks signed him for, that’s what they’re paying him for, and despite his warts, Poolman is still the best fit on the roster for the job.
Now, the question becomes who to pair him with.
Most would agree that keeping Hughes away from difficult matchups should be a high priority for 2021/22. His sophomore season did not go exceptionally well, and he needs time to rebuild his defensive game while continuing to let his offence flourish. The best bet for that is probably to shelter his matchups and zone-starts as much as possible.
Jack Rathbone is a still largely unknown quantity, but he could theoretically provide more of a two-way presence than Hughes. Even then, asking him to take on shutdown minutes as a rookie is probably a good way to have a bad time.
That leaves Ekman-Larsson.
The man they call OEL has suffered through, by his own admission, four poor seasons in Arizona. But not all bad seasons are created equal. True, Ekman-Larsson had the worst campaign of his career in 2021, facing sub-average competition on the Coyotes’ second pairing and still coming away bleeding goals and chances against. You can actually chart the franchise beginning to lose faith in him through Micah Blake McCurdy’s patented HockeyViz imagery:
But in every season prior to 2021, Ekman-Larsson was still facing an above-average QoC and, as recently as 2018/19, he was maintaining positive possession stats despite that.
The offence has stayed more or less in place for OEL. The defence has slipped greatly, but not so far or for so long that a rebound is impossible.
A pairing of Ekman-Larsson and Poolman going up against opposing top lines isn’t an ideal solution, but it is the best solution the Canucks have at the moment, and it at least has the potential to perform better than the Edler/Schmidt pairing did in 2021.
Of course, as with all less-than-perfect solutions, it also has the potential to create more problems.
The Canucks were probably hoping to have OEL partner with Myers in order to settle the latter down a bit. Placing OEL with Poolman means saddling Hughes — whose metrics plummeted when paired with Myers last season — or the rookie Rathbone with Myers, neither of which looks like a recipe for success.
But if the Canucks want something more effective, they’re going to have to get into the creative options.
One such possibility is placing more faith in Rathbone than one might ordinarily place in a rookie. Green could put Rathbone with Poolman to see how he handles semi-shutdown minutes, or he put him with Myers and hope there’s a better fit there than there was with Hughes.
Another strategy is to spread the shutdown responsibilities out more situationally.
Playing against the high-flying Edmonton Oilers? Get OEL and Poolman out there.
The plodding but powerful Vegas Golden Knights are in town? That might be a job for Myers.
A rough-and-tumble opponent full of bullies? Now it’s Hamonic’s time to shine.
More than anything, the best bet seems to be leaning on OEL and Poolman as your primary defensive deployment, but not over-relying on them, as was done the case for Edler and Schmidt in 2021.
Give OEL and Poolman the bulk of shifts against opposing top lines, but not ALL of them. Throw Hughes and Hamonic out there for the odd defensive-zone faceoff. Give Hughes and Rathbone sparing shifts against the McDavids of the league, and then give them time to reflect and learn from the experience instead of just going out there to do it again. Get Luke Schenn into the lineup every so often and load him up with tough minutes as a method of reprieve.
There’s also always the option of attempting to have one partner “stay-at-home” on each pairing and dispensing with a true shutdown pairing altogether, although that comes at its own peril.
As OEL and Poolman are not ideal solutions here, crafting a deployment that doesn’t overtax them seems like the best recipe for success. Cut them breaks where possible, give them nights off. Don’t expect them to handle a role they’re not perfectly suited for night-in and night-out and expect anything other than deterioration.
Beyond that, the Canucks and their fanbase just need to hope for the best, because this is the blueline that they’ll be icing in 2021/22.
It’s the start of the long weekend and that means your ol’ pal Baggedmilk is back with another dose of Random Thoughts before making my way out to the lake to drink the days away and try to make sense of what’s been going on around here. And like a gift for your Saturday, I’ve emptied my brain into this here blog post with all of the hockey thoughts that have been rolling around in my head over the past week and I invite you all to join me for a leisurely tour of my idea factory.
WELCOME ABOARD, ZACH
Rather than drone on about the length of Zach Hyman’s contract or how much he’s paid on an hourly basis, I’m choosing to look forward to what he’ll bring to the team here in year one. With 15 goals and 33 points in 43 games, Hyman produces at a rate that will help ease the pressure in the top six and that’s a luxury we haven’t had around here in quite some time. This isn’t like crowbarring Ty Rattie into the top-six and hoping it will work, Zach Hyman is legit and that has me feeling hopeful about the results. Not only that, the guy has a ridiculous drive for the puck as you can see in the clip above, and I can’t imagine that having a player type like this won’t be helpful in one way or another. Not only that, the potential for different line combos with him in the mix grows significantly, and I wonder how long it will take until Hyman is partnered with Nugent-Hopkins on the second line while Connor and Leon do their thing up top? No matter what happens or where he slots in, I believe Zach Hyman will help the Oilers when October rolls around and I’m very excited to see what he can do. One question that remains, though, is what number Hyman will wear since #11 is obviously retired around these parts.
DEREK RYAN WILL HELP
I know that bringing in Derek Ryan wasn’t the sexiest free agency signing we saw this week but it’s the kind of depth move that is going to be a boost in the bottom six and it’s going to help win hockey games. The Oilers got their heads kicked in when the third and fourth lines were on the ice, and upgrading some of those slots was absolutely necessary, and Ryan helps achieve that. After the deal was announced, we asked Ryan Pike from Flamesnation to give us a quick rundown on what we’re getting in Derek Ryan and his review was encouraging.
Derek Ryan is a really reliable bottom-six forward. He doesn’t have a lot of flash to his game, but he’s supremely steady and predictable. He kills penalties well, is a good right-side face-off option, and will provide 10-12 minutes a night of anxiety-free hockey. His lack of flash is probably why he’s a fourth-line guy, but he’s a really strong depth player.
If Ryan, a faceoff winning right-shot centreman, can come into Edmonton and be a part of the solution in the bottom half of the lineup then I think it won’t be long until he’s winning fans over, because he puts in the kind of effort that we absolutely love around these parts. And not only that, if Pike is right and this signing will help ease our stress for 10-12 minutes per night then I don’t know how that can be considered anything but a win.
After watching Warren Foegele highlights over the past couple of days, it’s obvious that the guy has wheels and that he will offer a different look on the forecheck. As we all know, the Oilers needed to add more offence into their bottom six and Warren Foegele will certainly help with that, but the cost of acquisition is what’s going to be the sticking point for a lot of people because Ethan Bear was a fan favourite for so many. Once again, Ken Holland gambled that Foegele will help more now than Bear would have and it’s a trade that Oilers fans will be following for years to come as both guys try to make a good first impression with their new teams.
PRESSURE IS ON FOR CODY CECI
Whether it’s fair or not, Cody Ceci will likely start the season in the Adam Larsson slot and that means Oilers fans are going to be directly comparing him to our former Swedish comrade that moved on for the coast. Ceci had himself a decent season in Pittsburgh last year — he registered 4G, 13A for 17 points with an average of 18:31 minutes in 53 games — but the Oilers need a shutdown defenceman that can be relied upon in sticky situations, and that’s not necessarily what comes to mind when I think of Cody Ceci. Now, will he be able to come into Edmonton and build upon the year he had with the Penguins? I certainly hope so because the Oilers are going to need him to do exactly that.
RIP JAMES NEAL ERA
Remember how much fun we had in October a couple of years ago when James Neal was ripping it up in his first few weeks as an Oiler? Good times. Now that he’s officially being bought out — the Oilers save $3.8 million this year and next while carrying $1.916 million in dead cap space for four seasons — I can’t help but think fondly of the time spent mailing thank you notes to the Calgary Flames in honour of the trade. Now, a buyout fresh in our minds, I can’t help but feel that maybe Neal was the right guy for the Oilers at the wrong time, ya know? Earlier in his career, Neal’s silky mitts would have been a dream to have as part of our squad, but as he got older and his boots started to fill with cement, those scoring opportunities were fewer and further between and that’s not a great way to spent $5.7+ million.