The Minnesota Wild announced that captain Mikko Koivu will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL and meniscus in his right knee. He is set to have surgery on Friday and then we can probably expect some sort of time line.
Koivu has one year left on his current deal and will be heading into his age-36 season.
Until we know more about Koivu’s recovery, I won’t speculate there. Let’s just hope he can come back and be close to the player he’s been for the last several years.
As far as the rest of the team is concerned, I suspect this means Minnesota packs it in. They are currently in a wild card spot but there are seven teams within six points and they’re already without Mathew Dumba. This probably means Eric Staal is to be traded by the deadline, which is just a few weeks away. He is a pending UFA and can always re-sign him. I guess we’ll know more in the next couple weeks. If they go on a big win streak, it’ll make the decision tougher. If they start to lose ground, it makes it easier.
It should also mean a lot more minutes for Victor Rask. He’s averaging under 15 minutes a game so far with the Wild but with Koivu out and Staal potentially gone in the next couple weeks, we could be about 20 days away from Rask being on the top line and playing 19-20 minutes a night. Not that I’m a big Rask guy, but anyone earning those types of minutes playing with Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund (or whomever), is worth the look. Just keep him in mind once the Staal trade chatter picks up.
Dylan Larkin was back in practice for the Red Wings just a few days after suffering that strain that took him out of the lineup for last Saturday’s game. He had been expected to miss up to two weeks, but it looks like he’ll be good to go for Thursday night’s contest against Vegas.
Nashville acquired New Jersey forward Brian Boyle on Wednesday in exchange for a second round pick in this year’s draft. The top-6 seems locked up (especially with Kyle Turris returning) and Boyle seems destined for the second power-play unit. A guy playing in the bottom-6 of almost any team isn’t usually worth much in fantasy, though Boyle will still be relevant in leagues that count hits. Overall, I don’t expect much change in his fantasy value.
The Predators also traded for Cody McLeod. Sure? To replace McLeod, the Rangers called up Vinny Lettieri.
An interesting tweet came across my timeline on Wednesday:
Past 10 NHL seasons: Tuukka Rask is first in save percentage, fourth in shutouts, seventh in wins.
Yet there is a crowd out there that still hates on this guy. I'll never understand it
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) February 6, 2019
This is, in fact, true. There are 41 goalies with at least 200 starts since the start of the 2009-2010 season. Of those 41 goalies, Rask is first in save percentage at .922. John Gibson is the only other goalie with at least a .920. Rask has a career .924 save percentage in the playoffs, including a Cup Final run in 2013 when he posted a .940. So I ask: is Tuukka Rask a Hall of Famer?
An interesting wrinkle in for the Bruins in their 4-3 shootout loss against the Rangers on Wednesday: they broke up the top line, moving David Pastrnak to the second line with David Krejci and Peter Cehlarik, lining Danton Heinen with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Jake DeBrusk was bumped to the fourth line. Each of Pastrnak, Bergeron, and Heinen scored in defeat.
The overtime in this game was particularly nuts. It was odd-man rush after odd-man rush, featuring a spectacular sprawling glove save from Jaroslav Halak to briefly preserve the chance at a second point.
Mika Zibanejad scored in the win, keeping his point-per-game pace this year with 53 in 53. That makes 11 goals and 23 points in 18 games since the holiday break.
In Bob Cole’s final home call on a Maple Leafs broadcast, we had a good ol’ fashioned Battle of Ontario shootout. The Leafs ended up with the 5-4 win thanks to a lot of wizardry from Mitch Marner (two assists), John Tavares (one goal, one assist) and Zach Hyman (one goal, one assist). Auston Matthews also tallied, giving him four goals in his last five games.
Magnus Paajarvi tallied a pair of goals, boosting his season total by 40 percent. Thomas Chabot also scored, his 20th career goal, and his 40th point of the season. He officially becomes the ninth defenceman in the NHL to hit 40 points this season, and Chabot has played just 45 games. I’ve repeated it often but he’ll be in the Norris conversation sooner rather than later.
The biggest news this week is probably going to be the signing of Auston Matthews, who signed a five-year deal with an AAV over $11.6-million. That might seem like a weird deal given that the Leafs would likely have wanted to keep him around for eight more years rather than five, unless he signs another extension down the road. But as Cam pointed out in his Ramblings yesterday, the team only bought one year of unrestricted free agency, which kept the cap hit down. If they buy more UFA years, that number of $11.6-million goes even higher, and this is a team that needs every bit of cap space they can manage for 2019-20. I wouldn’t expect guys like Matthew Tkachuk or Sebastian Aho to sign five-year deals.
Does this change the landscape for RFAs, and what is the impact for cap league owners? This started with William Nylander in the summer (and fall) and has continued with Matthews and will finish with Marner.
The thing is, Nylander wasn’t really out of line with his ask or with what he ended with. Though the AAV this year is wonky, Nylander effectively signed to carry an AAV of $6.96-million under a salary cap of $79.5-million. Back in the summer of 2016, Filip Forsberg signed for six years with an AAV of $6-million, Nathan MacKinnon signed for seven years with an AAV of $6.3-million, and Mark Scheifele signed for eight years with an AAV of $6.1-million. At time of signing, Forsberg had a career points/game mark of 0.73, with MacKinnon at 0.70, and Scheifele was at 0.64. Nylander, when he signed his, was at 0.73. Those guys signed deals when the cap was $73-million, which means those three guys signed for anywhere between 8.2 percent and 8.6 percent of the cap. Nylander’s deal was 8.8 percent of the $79.5M cap (though it’s a higher AAV this year because of signing bonuses, and it’ll be lower next year when the cap goes up). Now, it’s obvious he doesn’t have the same upside as MacKinnon, but at the time the contracts were signed, they had produced at a very similar rate. Nylander’s contract, then, isn’t an outlier. He asked to be paid like those in recent history with similar performance had. It may be a bit higher than we’d expect (this year doesn’t matter too much because the cap crunch doesn’t come until the season is over), but certainly not extreme.
As far as Matthews is concerned, we can debate length of the contract, the dollars, whatever, but if we just isolate the AAV, as Cam pointed out, he’s being paid a similar percentage to other top centres. The difference between Matthews and others is AM34 is coming out of his ELC. The only real comparable contracts we can point to recently are Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, and Jack Eichel. When Draisaitl signed his deal, he was 11.3 percent of the cap. Eichel’s this year is 12.6 percent, while McDavid’s is at 15.7 percent. Matthews’s will be 14 percent next season, and as Cam pointed out, the team only bought one UFA year whereas Edmonton and Buffalo bought multiple UFA years. The difference being Eichel was a 0.85 points/game guy in his first three years, but Matthews is at 0.98 and looks to be one of the top-3 goal scorers in the league. In that sense, Matthews’s landing between Eichel and McDavid isn’t much of a stretch.
Finally, we have Marner on the horizon. If he maintains close to his current point pace, he’ll have over 220 career points through his first three seasons. Since the 2005 lockout, there are just eight players with at least 220 points through their first three seasons: Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid, and Artemi Panarin. If you exclude Panarin because he came over to the NHL at such a late point in his career, you have seven players. Of those seven, six are future Hall of Famers with Nicklas Backstrom being the only question mark, and he’s largely been Ovechkin’s centre for all these years. We can talk about more goals and a different game all we want, but if Marner’s agent can point to Patrick Kane and say “my client’s first three seasons are similar to his first three seasons,” the guy is going to get paid, and paid handsomely.
(for what it’s worth, the first two seasons of Kane’s career saw a similar goal rate league-wide as Marner’s first two seasons)
I know there’s a lot of freaking out about how much players are making coming off their ELCs. This would change the landscape for cap league owners. The thing is, I’m not sure a lot has really changed. As I explained, Nylander’s AAV was in line with production from guys before him, Matthews is probably a bit high considering it’s only one UFA bought but he’s an exceptional talent, and Marner is producing at a level few players in his position have over the last 15 years. The circus (Nylander not signing before the seasons, Marner’s agent, etc) aside, there isn’t anything extreme here. It’s an exceptional circumstance where you have three players of this calibre all coming off ELCs within a year of each other. The Jets have something similar coming up with Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, and Jacob Trouba, but even those names aren’t at the same impact level as the Matthews-Nylander-Marner triumvirate, and Trouba is not coming off an ELC.
All this is to say, I don’t think anything is considerably different but this is rather just a unique situation. Players are being paid more in raw dollars but as a percentage of the cap, it’s not all that different than what we’ve seen in recent history. All eyes are on Marner now, though. If he were to sign a five-year deal with a similar cap percentage to what Kane signed with back in 2010 (which was a five-year deal), he’d be expected to earn about $8.8-million per season. Depending on the length of the contract, it could change the landscape. On the other hand, it might not. We’ll see when he actually signs the deal.
What I will say is that one change to keep an eye on is the length of contracts coming out of ELCs. Nylander signed for six years and Matthews for five. Maybe Marner does the same. I wonder if we see the upper-tier of players coming out of ELCs signing short deals (five, maybe six at most) as opposed to eight. Teams are more hesitant to sign 29- or 30-year olds to long-term deals than they had been in the past, which is the age players coming off eight-year RFA deals typically land. Teams will be a lot less hesitant to sign 26- or 27-year olds to long-term deals, which is the age players would be coming off five-year RFA contracts. This allows the player some level of guarantee to sign two big contracts in their careers, as opposed to risking getting short-term deals as they approach 30 years old.
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