NHL NEWS: News, news, news (Bernier, Torres, Enroth, Briere, Kaberle, Komisarek, Tippett, Backstrom, Noel)
The news from all corners of the NHL keeps pouring through, all of the following items as per TSN.
TORONTO ACQUIRES JONATHAN BERNIER
Jonathan Bernier, the highly-touted backup goalie in LA, has been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in return for their backup goalie Ben Scrivens, forward Matt Frattin and a conditional 2nd round pick. Well, Bernier’s contract rights have been traded – he is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this off-season.
This is an interesting move for Toronto, because most people thought they had their starting goalie in place – James Reimer has been on the whole very good for the team. Not a top-tier goalie perhaps, but certainly at least a league-average one. Bernier, whilst younger and less experienced, is thought of by many as a starter-in-waiting, simply unable to get the job in LA due to Jonathan Quick’s brilliance. Now, there is nothing wrong with having two quality goalies, indeed that is by and large a good thing, but the trouble is you have one guy who thought he was already a starter for the team, and now the team goes in and brings in a guy who has pretty much publicly been clamoring for the chance to be a number one in the NHL – can you say goalie controversy?
On the other hand, perhaps this will work out well, pushing both goalies to be better and allowing the Leafs to simply choose which one performs better and trade the other one.
I do think the Leafs paid a heavy price for Bernier’s rights, however. Teams have been talking to LA about Bernier for a couple of years now, and the rumoured price was always high, but two highly touted prospects and a relatively high draft pick? That’s a lot to give up for a 24 year old goalie with only 62 NHL games under his belt and no more than 25 in any one season, and with average career stats including a 2.36 GAA and a 0.912 SV%. You can argue about opportunity and potential, but at the end of the day Bernier is still something of an unknown at the NHL level. I saw him play in London in 2006, and he was great then despite having only been drafted a year earlier, so I’m not denying his talent level. What I am saying is that projecting goalies is pure witchcraft – there’s a reason you don’t see many drafted in the first round anymore, as so many goalies look great in small samples or at lower levels but struggle in the NHL. Bernier hasn’t struggled in the NHL, by all means he’s been exactly OK, but until he plays 50+ games and at least maintains those career averages I wouldn’t be too excited in the move.
LA on the other hand get a potentially slightly less good goalie, but one that has still shown a lot of potential to be at minimum a very good NHL backup. At 26 he’s a bit older than Bernier, and only has 32 NHL games to his name, so he’s even less of a sure thing, but then not many are really expecting him to be a starter – expectations are lower. With Jonathan Quick locked in to the starters role, Scrivens doesn’t need to be anything better than a good backup.
They also received Matt Frattin, a former NCAA guy who went from mediocre to lights-out overnight in his Senior year at North Dakota. That earned him a contract with the Leafs in 2010, who had already drafted him in 2007, and since turning pro he has had an up and down career. A very good AHL scorer, he has struggled in parts of two NHL seasons, although did show flashes of the kind of player he could be, scoring 13 points in 25 games this year. At 25 years old, he’s going to have a tough time cracking LA’s dominant possession forwards in the top 6, particularly due to below-average skating ability (as per Corey Pronman), but he does possess decent defensive ability (again, Pronman) so could be a powerplay specialist and solid third/fourth liner.
The draft pick, whether this year or next, is a pretty valuable piece aswell. Second round picks can pick up valuable players, or they can be used to flip to another team for another player. LA in particular has made some very good choices with their second rounders in recent times: Wayne Simmonds and Oscar Moller (2007), Slava Voynov (2008), Kyle Clifford (2009), Tyler Toffoli (2010) and Christopher Gibson (2011). That’s three quality NHLers (Simmonds, Clifford, Voynov), whilst the rest are all legitimately good prospects.
In that same span, Toronto has drafted Jimmy Hayes (2008), Kenny Ryan and Jesse Blacker (2009), Brad Ross (2010), and Matt Finn (2012). Blacker and Ross have yet to make much of an impact at the AHL level, let alone the NHL, whilst Ryan has yet to turn pro but was average at best in junior. Hayes is a decent prospect, since traded to Chicago, and Matt Finn is a top OHL defender. Not quite the same level of quality with those second rounders, so maybe Toronto won’t miss it all that much…
TORRES RE-SIGNS IN SAN JOSE
Veteran winger Raffi Torres has signed a three year deal to remain in San Jose, at $2m per season. Whilst he receives endless criticism for his over-the-line play – he has had four suspensions since 2011 – he is a quality hockey player, the exact kind that every hockey team wants in its lineup. He is no longer the scorer he was in Edmonton, but he has developed his overall game extremely well. A good skater, and obviously extremely physical and strong, he can also chip in a decent amount of offence and be reliable defensively. That is exactly what you want out of a bottom six skater, not to mention the fact he can slide up and down the lineup as needed. $2m per season is a bargain for the Sharks, a very good signing – from the sounds of it, Torres would have had a fair bit of interest from teams in free agency.
JHONAS ENROTH RE-SIGNS IN BUFFALO
24 year old Swedish goalie Jhonas Enroth has re-signed in Buffalo for two years at $1.25m per season. Enroth has been solid in his three NHL seasons, posting a career 2.72 GAA and .914 SV%, getting better and better each year. He has long been heralded the goalie of the future in Buffalo, and this spring he showed that by performing extremely well down the stretch and then was named the top goalie following the World Championships in which he helped lead Sweden to the Gold Medal. Considering he is still only 24, which is very young for a goalie and makes it all the more incredible that he already has 3 years of NHL experience, he has enormous potential.
BUYOUT CANDIDATE NEWS
Danny Briere of Philadelphia, Tomas Kaberle of Montreal and Mike Komisarek of Toronto are all fully expected to be buyout casualties of their respective teams.
Still a fairly productive NHL forward, Briere is nonetheless 35 years old with a $6.5m average per season contract for 2 more seasons. For a team like the Flyers who are currently over the salary cap limit, a guy who is no longer a top 6 forward just isn’t worth that money. With 286 goals and 659 points in 847 games, Briere shouldn’t have trouble finding a new home, he just won’t be paid nearly as much.
Next up is Tomas Kaberle. One of the top offensive defenders of his era, Kaberle has simply not been the same since leaving Toronto in 2011. He struggled in 24 regular season games and 25 playoff games for Boston (though he obviously won the Cup with the team), then signed with Carolina where he struggled for 29 games, was traded to Montreal where he was actually OK at least offensively for 43 games, but he only played 10 games for the team this year with 3 points, and didn’t play in the playoffs, which just isn’t going to cut it. His salary is $4.5m (cap hit of $4.25m) so it’s not horrendously large, and he only has one more year on that contract, which makes it somewhat surprising that they’re going to use a buyout on him considering Montreal aren’t a team close to the cap ceiling. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another team gamble on Kaberle given his overall career, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him head back to the Czech Republic or the KHL.
Finally, Mike Komisarek is also apparently going to be bought out. This comes as a surprise to no-one, given his $3.575m contract that is currently buried in the minor leagues. That he managed to earn that contract in the first place is amazing: he only has 77 points in 519 career NHL games, and whilst a pretty good defensive player he was never particularly great. If he finds another NHL home, he’ll be very lucky.
DAVE TIPPETT TO STAY WITH PHOENIX
Despite the Phoenix Coyotes’ precarious ownership situation, head coach Dave Tippett has elected to remain on board, signing a new 5 year deal with the team. Tippett has been fantastic as their coach, leading them to fairly significant success in his 4 seasons at the helm – they’ve made the playoffs 3 times in 4 seasons since he was hired, have gone 156-96-42 despite not having the most obviously talented team, and even made the Conference Finals for the first time in 2012.
Tippett would have been snapped up by another team had he not signed a new deal, but this is fantastic news for Coyotes fans.
WILD RE-SIGN BACKSTROM
The Minnesota Wild have agreed to terms with veteran goalie Niklas Backstrom on a three year contract extension worth $3.42m per season. The 35 year old has 369 NHL games under his belt over 7 seasons, with a career 2.43 GAA, a .917 SV% and 184 wins, as well as 28 shutouts.
A free agent signing from FInland, Backstrom has pretty much been the Wild’s starter since he joined the team in 2006, and for a good deal of that time has been very, very good for the team. He shared the Jennings Trophy (best GAA) with Manny Fernandez that first year, as well as winning the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award for best SV%, holds the Wild’s franchise records for most career wins (184), most wins in one season (37 in 08/09) and most shutouts in one season (8 in 08/09). He was also the second runner-up in 2009 for the Vezina Trophy as best goalie.
Despite tying for the league lead in wins this past year, he was great on the whole, managing just a .909 SV% in 42 games. He’s not getting any younger, and has struggled somewhat with injuries the last couple of years.
However, even though he’s likely not a premier starting goalie anymore, he’s still pretty good, and $3.42m per season is an absolute bargain for the Wild. It’s almost guaranteed that he could have signed a far, far richer deal if he’d become a free agent, but in a very classy move he chose to remain with the team that has given him a quality career.
JETS EXTEND CLAUDE NOEL FOR 1 YEAR
The Winnipeg Jets have announced the signing of head coach Claude Noel to a one year contract extension, after two moderately successful first couple of years. A 61-56-13 record may not look fantastic, but consider the mess the team was in when it relocated to Winnipeg from Atlanta and it’s actually pretty good. The likes of Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd, Ondrej Pavelec, Tobias Enstrom, Kyle Wellwood and Blake Wheeler have all played some very good hockey under Noel, and year over year the Jets have improved to the point where they are a borderline playoff team.
The team does lack top star power, although Kane could be that, but are definitely competitive, and Noel deserves a share of the credit for that. For his efforts, he’s earned this third year to see what more he can do.