The NHL has revealed the nominees for another award, naming Deryk Engelland, Wayne Simmonds and Blake Wheeler finalists for the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award. The award is given “to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season.”
It’s NFL Draft week! This year’s draft is full of intrigue and you’ll want to stay tuned to Pro Football Rumors for every update whether you’re a casual or hardcore NFL fan.
The draft is hours away and we still don’t know who the No. 1 overall pick will be. Many believe the Browns will take either USC quarterback Sam Darnold or Wyoming QB Josh Allen with the top choice, but the latest word indicates that Oklahoma signal caller Baker Mayfield is in consideration. The Browns could throw everyone an even bigger curve by taking Penn State running back Saquon Barkley at No. 1, which would truly throw the rest of the draft board in flux. The Browns have also made it known that they are willing to trade the first pick, so we could see a blockbuster deal involving a team desperate to find their future solution under center.
The uncertainty doesn’t stop there. The Giants, at No. 2, are reportedly enamored with Barkley and are divided on this year’s top QB prospects, so it’s unclear if they will follow through on their expected plan to draft Eli Manning’s successor. The Jets, meanwhile, are grappling with whether to select Mayfield or UCLA QB Josh Rosen, assuming both players fall to them. With so many questions regarding the top three picks, the possibilities are endless for how the remainder of the first round will shake out.
Over the next 48 hours, there will be a myriad of rumors regarding the NFL Draft and Pro Football Rumors will help you separate the wheat from the chaff. To stay plugged in with up-to-the-minute updates, follow Pro Football Rumors on Twitter: @pfrumors.
He won’t be facing any Taylor Hall shots, but Keith Kinkaid of the New Jersey Devils is headed to the World Championships for Team USA. Kinkaid started six games in the 2016 tournament, but struggled to find any consistency and his team failed to medal. This time around, things are a little bit different in his career.
Kinkaid essentially took the net from Cory Schneider this season, registering a .913 save percentage in 41 games and showing that he could have what it takes to be a starting goaltender in the NHL. It came at a good time, as the 28-year old goaltender is eligible to sign an extension on July 1st, but could hold out to hit free agency in 2019. Though he struggled in the postseason allowing nine goals on 46 shots, his body of work over a relatively short career is impressive enough to put him among the candidates for a long-term deal on the open market. A good performance at the Worlds would only add to that resume.
- The Winnipeg Jets happily welcomed Toby Enstrom and Nikolaj Ehlers back to the ice today without their previous non-contact sweaters, meaning a return for the beginning of the second round seems possible. Ehlers played in just four games in the opening series, while Enstrom has yet to suit up in the postseason. According to Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun, Enstrom took his normal place beside Dustin Byfuglien in practice, while Ehlers was alongside Paul Stastny on the second line. Though nothing is official yet, the Jets are expected to kick off their second round series against the Nashville Predators on Friday night.
- Evgeni Malkin was spotted by The Athletic’s Josh Yohe today, who noted that though there were no apparent casts, the superstar forward was walking with a “hint of a limp.” Malkin didn’t play in Game 6 of the first round, but is apparently “day to day” according to head coach Mike Sullivan. Getting Malkin back soon is imperative for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they prepare for another second round matchup with the Washington Capitals.
The IIHF World Championships is set to begin May 4th in Denmark, and there have already been plenty of players announced to the Team Canada roster. Add one more name to the goaltending group, as Rick Dhaliwal of News 1130 in Vancouver is reporting that Canucks’ draft pick Michael DiPietro has received an invitation. Dhaliwal expects DiPietro to be the third goaltender, but it is still a huge honor for the 18-year old.
Amazingly, DiPietro was cut from the Canadian World Junior squad earlier this season but will now represent the country on an even bigger stage. Carter Hart, the starter for that World Junior team is still in the WHL playoffs with the Everett Silvertips.
DiPietro was the third goaltender off the board last June, selected at the beginning of the third round. He went back to the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL and had another solid season, turning up his performance in the playoffs. Though the Spitfires were eliminated early, it wasn’t their goaltending that lost the series. DiPietro put up a .934 save percentage, stopping 226 shots in six games.
Inviting an unsigned draft pick—DiPietro still has not signed with the Canucks—to join the World Championship team is a lesson Canada may have learned from USA Hockey, who brought along Cal Petersen last year to experience the tournament as a third goaltender.
Though he was asked, Taylor Hall has declined an invitation to compete in the upcoming World Championships according to Mike Morreale of NHL.com. Team Canada would have loved to bring the MVP candidate aboard, but after a long season and disappointing playoff exit Hall will take some time off before starting to train for next year.
Hall has always been an excellent players, going back to his first-overall selection in 2010, but he found a new gear this season playing for the New Jersey Devils. With 93 points in 76 games he set a career-high in basically every offensive category, including goals, assists, plus/minus and takeaways. He added six points in the first five playoff games of his career, proving he could perform on the biggest stage. Unfortunately the Devils ran into a powerhouse Tampa Bay team and were eliminated, but still took huge steps forward this season.
On one of the most affordable contracts in the league—$6MM for each of the next two seasons—Hall will concentrate on helping the Devils take another step next season. It’s not like he hasn’t represented Canada in the past, playing in three World Championships and taking home two gold medals.
While the playoffs are ongoing, many teams have already started their offseason planning. What storylines lie ahead around the league? Our Offseason Keys series begins with a look at the Buffalo Sabres.
Things were looking up heading into the year in Buffalo. In came Jason Botterill as GM and Phil Housley as head coach but the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Instead of making a push for the postseason, the opposite happened as they finished dead last in the league, creating a whole new set of questions that will need to be addressed in the months to come. Here are the keys to their offseason.
Determine Their Starter
Three years ago, former GM Tim Murray dealt a first-round pick to Ottawa in a deal for Robin Lehner with the expectation he’d be their goalie of the present and future. The results were okay early on but have gotten worse each year. In 2017-18, he posted a 3.01 GAA with a .908 SV% in 53 games, numbers that were below average for a backup let alone a starter.
Accordingly, it’s fair to wonder as to whether Lehner is still in the long-term plans, something that is exacerbated by his contract situation this summer. The 26-year-old is a restricted free agent with arbitration eligibility and sits one year away from UFA eligibility. (His qualifying offer checks in at an even $4MM.) This is the time where a team would typically want to commit a long-term deal rather than risking having the player opt for arbitration and a one-year deal but given his recent performance, that’s far from a guarantee.
If Lehner isn’t in the long-term plans anymore, than Botterill will have to be active to try to find someone who will be. Youngster Linus Ullmark isn’t ready to step into a number one NHL role just yet (and backup Chad Johnson isn’t likely to return) so they will have to look outside the organization to find that player. Unfortunately for Buffalo, the UFA market isn’t ripe with long-term options so a trade may be the way they have to go.
Add A Top Defender
Last summer, Botterill rebuilt the defense, adding Nathan Beaulieu, Marco Scandella, and Victor Antipin to give them more mobility. The idea made sense in theory as the league trends towards a quicker style of play but the results were not pretty as the team had a league-worst -81 goal differential.
What they added in quantity last summer didn’t compensate for the lack of top defenders they have. Rasmus Ristolainen is a quality blueliner but the rest of their back end are role players or youngsters that aren’t quite ready for top minutes yet. That’s not uncommon for rebuilding teams but bringing this same group back with another year of experience likely won’t change too much.
Top-four defensemen are typically in short supply and high demand but if Buffalo wants to get out of the cellar this summer, finding a way to add one has to be a must for Botterill.
New Deal For Reinhart
Last summer, getting a contract extension done for center Jack Eichel was a top priority and they accomplished that. This offseason, they have another core youngster to lock up in Sam Reinhart and an interesting decision to make along the way.
With Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly down the middle, Reinhart spent a lot of this past season on the wing and he responded well with a career-high 25 goals and 50 points. However, the 22-year-old was drafted as a center but right now, he’s blocked. Eichel isn’t going anywhere but could O’Reilly be on the move? Some of his comments from the end of the season have fueled speculation that he could go which could open up a spot for Reinhart to play his natural position long-term.
As for the contract, has he done enough to bypass a bridge deal? He has been fairly consistent in his three NHL seasons with his point totals ranging from 44-50. Does Reinhart have another gear in him to become a top-line player? If so, then perhaps the time is right for the Sabres to commit long-term. If they think this is more of his ceiling though, a shorter-term pact may be on the horizon. It’s not as big of a commitment to make compared to the eight years and $80MM Eichel received last summer but a new deal for Reinhart is still a big item on Buffalo’s to-do list.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Oilers winger Iiro Pakarinen is heading back overseas. A report from Sasha Huttunen and Markku Saarinen of Iltalehti in Finland states that Pakarinen has signed with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL for next season, ending a four-year stint in North America. The term of the contract is not yet known.
The 26-year-old played in 40 games with Edmonton this past season, posting two goals and an assist while logging just over 10 minutes per night in ice time. He was more productive at the minor league level after clearing waivers back in December, recording 13 points (9-4-13) in 18 games with their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield.
While he wound up back with the big club down the stretch, the writing was on the wall that Pakarinen was likely to be a player on the fringes in training camp. As a result, he’s chosen to go where he’ll have a bigger role which could help his chances of landing another NHL look down the road. While Edmonton can retain his rights for one more year by qualifying him in June (his required offer is a little over $760K), he will become an unrestricted free agent in July of 2019.
As Bruce McCurdy of the Edmonton Journal notes, Pakarinen was one of the more effective penalty killers for the Oilers and with Mark Letestu, who led all Edmonton forwards in shorthanded ice time per game, dealt to Columbus near the trade deadline, GM Peter Chiarelli will likely be on the lookout for some checking help up front in the months to come.
The finalists for the Calder Trophy were announced yesterday, with Mathew Barzal, Brock Boeser and Clayton Keller landing in the top three. You can’t really argue with the nominations for any of the three after their outstanding seasons, but they certainly weren’t the only ones.
Kyle Connor in Winnipeg led all rookies with 31 goals, scoring at an incredible pace in the second half of the season. 21 of those goals came in his final 45 games, as a huge part of the Jets offensive attack.
Defenseman Charlie McAvoy registered just 32 points for the Boston Bruins, but logged more than 22 minutes a night as part of their top pairing. The 20-year old was tasked with playing against some of the best players in the league, and is hard matching against Auston Matthews and company in the playoffs.
Perhaps the most overlooked is Yanni Gourde, the undersized forward who finally made it to the NHL and showed why he should have been there all along. The 26-year old undrafted Gourde was an outstanding offensive player in junior, and registered 64 points—third most by any rookie—while playing in all 82 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
What about goaltenders? Juuse Saros played in 26 games for the Presidents Trophy-winning Nashville Predators, posting a .925 save percentage. That put him ninth in the entire league among goaltenders who made at least 20 starts, and would put him in Vezina contention had he played more games—teammate Pekka Rinne’s .927 has him as one of the favorites to win the award.
So who do you think should win the Calder? Cast a vote for not who you think will win, but who should win, and explain your reasoning in the comments below. We’ve listed several players as options to see if our readers at PHR end up with the same three finalists.
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Sweden released their preliminary roster for the upcoming World Championships, and it is loaded with NHL talent. John Klingberg, Adam Larsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Erik Gustafsson, Adrian Kempe, Mikael Backlund, Johan Larsson, Mattias Janmark, Lias Andersson, Jacob de La Rose, Magnus Paajarvi and Mika Zibanejad will all be heading to the tournament for the Swedes.
Though obviously this group is missing some of their top options like Erik Karlsson and Henrik Zetterberg, it will also have some very interesting young players filling the gaps. Vegas Golden Knights draft pick Erik Brannstrom will be among the defense corps, and Rick Dhaliwal of News 1130 in Vancouver expects Elias Pettersson will be added soon.
- There have been some conflicting reports on Slava Voynov’s potential return to the NHL, but Arthur Staple of The Athletic can make one thing very clear. The New York Islanders have not reached out to anyone connected to the former NHL player, and have “zero interest” in bringing him aboard. Whether or not any team will actually sign the 28-year old defenseman is still unclear.
- The Anaheim Ducks will not bring back assistant coach Trent Yawney next season, choosing not to renew his contract. Yawney has been with the Ducks organization for seven seasons, first as head coach of their AHL affiliate (Syracuse, then Norfolk) and the last four seasons as an assistant to Bruce Boudreau and Randy Carlyle in the NHL.