NHL NEWS: MULTIPLE PLAYER SIGNINGS AT 11TH HOUR PRIOR TO LOCKOUT, INCLUDING LUCIC, KANE AND FOWLER

In the hours prior to the NHL lockout taking effect at midnight on Saturday, there was a flurry of activity as teams signed several important players to contract extensions prior to the expiry of the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement, ensuring that these key players will be tied to their teams for the foreseeable future regardless of what happens on the CBA front.

All news as per TSN.

Boston Signs Lucic

The Boston Bruins have signed power forward Milan Lucic to a three year extension at $6m per season.  Here is what I had to say about Lucic in my recent Boston Bruins Player-By-Player Season Preview:

The hulking winger is revered around the league for being the absolute model of perfection for power forwards.  Massive size (6’4″, 220lbs), physical play (201 hits, 135PIMs) and (nearly) high-end scoring ability make him an absolute force to be reckoned with.  One of the only truly feared players to play against in the league, he is hated as much as he is praised (particularly after his controversial hit to the head of Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller this season).  His shooting percentage numbers might look high, but he is historically (in the NHL at least) a high percentage scorer so probably not to worry about there, although that number could be expected to fluctuate a bit from season to season.  Won’t help the team much defensively, but outshoots his competition at even strength and pushes the play in the right direction.

Whilst I do heap the praise onto Lucic here, $6m per year is “Franchise Player” territory, and Lucic is not a franchise player.  A franchise player is a guy who either leads your team in scoring and is near the top of the league year in, year out – like a Crosby, a Malkin, a Tavares – or is a fantastic two-way player who does it all – like a Datsyuk or a Weber or a Doughty.  Those are guys you build the team around.  Lucic is not that player.  He is a damn good scorer, and like I mentioned a feared force, but he is not the really high-end of that player type in terms of overall ability, like Iginla, Getzlaf, or to go back a ways, Neely.  He is a great complimentary player, and every team needs those, but they are easier to come across and are less likely to do well when on bad teams.  Lucic doesn’t leach off his team-mates, but I’d say that being on a good team and playing with the players he does, certainly helps him a lot.  That shouldn’t be a slight on him, I still think he’s a great player, but I’d call him a $5m player maximum.  Strange deal here.  But, it’s only for 3 seasons, so it’s not like the Bruins are handcuffed for eternity with this one.

Islanders Sign Martin

The New York Islanders have announced the signing of left winger Matt Martin to a four year deal – financial terms not yet disclosed.  Martin was only drafted in the 5th Round as recently as 2008, but already has 153 NHL games under his belt.  As the esteemed Oiler blogger Lowetide would say, he’s definitely covered his draft bet.  He wasn’t drafted as a scorer, nor will he likely ever be a scorer, with only 30 points in those 153 games, but his value lies elsewhere.  He is a huge, über-physical force – at 6’3″ and 210lbs, he dished out 374 hits last season – and also has helped out on the PK the last couple of seasons.  I can’t really comment on how effective he actually was on the penalty kill, having not seen him, but if he’s being trusted by his coaches at a young age (even on a bad team) he must have some potential to at least become a defensive player in that mould.  As long as the dollar amount on this deal isn’t too high (I’d argue around the $1m mark would be fair to both sides), then this was a good signing – physicality, defensive play (as well as the PK he wasn’t too bad by the shot metrics despite heavy defensive zone starts), and not a complete bum on offence (he put away 7 goals and 7 assists last year) are all things you want in a 4th line depth player.

Ducks Extend Fowler

The Anaheim Ducks have announced the contract extension of young blue-liner Cam Fowler, at 5 years and for a reported $20m total, or $4m per year.  If the dollar amount is correct, this is a great deal for the Ducks, and could turn into a bargain.  Some may look at Fowler’s 11-12 season as a disappointment, as he only put up 5 goals and 29 points compared to 10 goals and 40 points in 10-11, his rookie year.  But it really shouldn’t be looked at that way.  Here is what I said about Fowler in the Anaheim Ducks Player-By-Player Season Preview:

The young “stud” d-man who took the league by storm last year appeared to take a step back this season, perhaps a sophomore slump.  Firstly however, it should be noted that scoring for defensemen does fluctuate quite a lot year-to-year, especially with the young ones.  29 points is still a very good total for a 19/20 year old [defender] though, and there is more to consider.  Whilst Fowler does have an awful plus/minus rating of -28, Vollman’s Charts suggest he was playing a very high level of competition, and not receiving massively beneficial zonestarts, but was almost dominating in terms of shot differential.  That is outstanding for a young d-man who was asked to play a lot of minutes (18:53 per game at 5v5, plus substantial PP time and some PK time).  The +/- should improve as Fowler gets more experienced and as the Ducks get better.  Heck of a young player.

So, yeah.  This could turn into an absolute steal, much like when Fowler fell to the Ducks at the 2010 Draft.  I would have thought they’d sign him to a shorter term extension at that money, say for 2 years, and then evaluate what his long-term worth would be, but to get him for 5 years at such a low amount for a guy who is already a pretty dominant player in some respects, is astounding.  Good deal.

Nashville Sign Klein and Smith

The Nashville Predators have announced that they have locked up 27 year old defenceman Kevin Klein to a 5 year contract worth $2.9m per season.  From the TSN press release:

Kevin Klein embodies the Predators way — the culture and belief system we have worked hard to create,” Nashville general manager David Poile said. “He was drafted and developed by the team, has become an integral part of our defensive corps, and is committed to being a part of our long-term success.”

Klein posted a career-high 21 points in 66 games for the Preds in 2011-12, adding two goals and two assists in 10 postseason appearances. He also topped the club with 151 blocked shots.

This was Klein’s 4th full NHL season, and he has shown steady improvement year over year to get to this point.  Clearly the Preds value his contributions, and so they should to an extent, but I think $2.9m per year is a tad steep for this player type.  He seems to be able to do a lot of things, so he is a useful player, but if you look a bit deeper we can see he’s not as effective as he first looks.  The Vollman Charts show he played average-ish competition and was outshot by a fair margin, although considering he was started less than 45% of the time in the offensive zone that can be forgiven to an extent.  He is a bonafide NHLer, and so I don’t think it was bad that they signed him, I just think nearly $3m a year for 5 years is a big price to pay for a guy who doesn’t appear to be any more than a number 4 defender.

The Predators also announced the signing of forward Craig Smith to a 2 year deal worth $2m per year.  This is a pretty good signing, as Smith had a very good rookie season putting up 14 goals and 36 points. It’s worth noting that Smith had quite a low shooting percentage too, at 8.14%, whereas he is historically (in lower leagues, to be fair) a higher percentage shooter, so he could see a rise in goal scoring next year if things go his way more.  His underlying stats were pretty good, as he faced average-ish competition and outshot them, showing he moved the play in the right direction, which for an unheralded rookie who hadn’t played pro hockey prior to this season (he came straight from the NCAA, where he was very highly touted) is very good.  Nice signing, hopefully it will pay off and Smith will improve even more.

Jets (finally) sign Kane

After months of speculation as to what was going to happen with young star forward – and restricted free agent – Evander Kane (would they sign him or trade him?), the Winnipeg Jets finally managed to get the budding power forward under contract for 6 years at $5.25m per season.  This was apparently signed only 30 minutes before the expiration of the CBA.  Kane, 21 years old, put up 30 goals and 27 assists in 74 games last year, in what has to be considered his break-out season.

The former 4th overall pick in 2009 has flashed his potential for a couple of years but it finally came together in the Jets first season after being relocated from Atlanta.  This contract, much like the Taylor Hall one, is paying him for what he potentially could be rather than what he currently is, even though what he currently is is pretty darn good.  He’s big at 6’2″ and nearly 200lbs, physical with 173 hits in 11-12, and is a pretty fierce competitor with many comparing him to Calgary Flames star Jarome Iginla.  He faced average competition with a big offensive zone push, but did come out with a positive result by the shot metrics, which can only ever be a good thing.  Great young player and I’d be willing to bet this turns out to be a good deal for the Jets, who need Kane to be the face of their franchise as they are lacking in real star-power despite having many good players.

Sabres Sign Ennis

The Buffalo Sabres have announced the signing of diminutive forward Tyler Ennis to a 2 year contract worth $2.8125m per season, although that amount is a reported figure – the Sabres have not yet disclosed the true amount.  Here is what I said about Ennis in my Buffalo Sabres Season Preview:

One of the smallest guys in the NHL, at 5’9″ and 157lbs, Ennis is an electric ball of energy and skill.  After a strong rookie season in which he posted 20 goals, expectations were high, and Ennis didn’t disappoint.  He increased his points per game average from 0.59 to 0.70, a figure that would have seen him post 58 points over a full season.  Unfortunately, the injury bug hit, as Ennis had to deal with ankle issues and missed the whole of November and then the whole of January.  Ennis did have negative shot differentials this season, against middling competition and with easy zonestarts, but it’s not uncommon for younger players to find that.  Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on.  It remains to be seen whether Ennis is a top line guy, that Martin St Louis type, or more of a complimentary skilled guy who doesn’t offer much beyond scoring.  My guess would be somewhere in between, perhaps leaning a little more towards the latter.

I’d say, if the dollar amount is true, that this is a very good deal for the Sabres.  It buys them a couple of years to see what Ennis really is as a player, whilst not overpaying him.  This is also good for Ennis, as it is a big upgrade on his entry level contract, yet is not too long term that he can’t potentially get a pay rise in a couple of years.  He just has to continue to improve like he has been so far.

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