One of the first orders of business for the Flames as the summer rolled on was taking care of deals for restricted free agents Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm, both of whom were acquired in Calgary’s blockbuster deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. And while the latter is still awaiting a pact with his new club, the former has signed on long term as of Monday, putting pen to paper on a six-year, $29.1-million contract.
It would be difficult to have any gripes with Lindholm’s new deal, either. While with his $4.85-million cap hit he becomes the fifth-highest paid forward on the Flames’ roster, the 23-year-old’s potential for growth over the next several seasons gives the long-term deal promise to become a steal in short order. On a low-scoring Carolina club over the past five seasons, Lindholm has been able to consistently contribute. Fresh off of a 16-goal, 44-point season, and with career bests of 17 goals and 45 points in his back pocket, Lindholm could find a fit on the wing of either Mikael Backlund or Sean Monahan this coming season and vault up to the 20-goal, 50-point plateaus in an instant. Hitting such heights offensively would make Lindholm’s contract incredibly cost effective, too.
But as much as the offensive upside exists, it’s Lindholm’s ability to be effective at both ends of the ice that all but ensures the deal won’t be an anchor in the coming campaigns. Lindholm’s responsibility is an attribute that often needs driving home in young players, but he has it in droves. It will help, too, that he’s about to rekindle his relationship with former Hurricanes coach Bill Peters, who signed on to become the Flames’ coach earlier this season.
With Lindholm signing, you can also scratch another pending arbitration case off the docket. Lindholm and the Flames were scheduled to have their day in front of an arbitrator on Aug. 1, but the two sides managing to work a deal out before then renders the hearing obsolete. As we’ve come to expect, too, the flood of signings following the arbitration deadline has resulted in the number of potential cases dwindling fast. What began as 44 potential hearings has now been trimmed down to 30, with the first cases slated to be heard on July 20.
DUCKS LOCK IN HENRIQUE ON FIVE-YEAR EXTENSION
The Flames weren’t the only Pacific Division team active Monday, however, as the Anaheim Ducks went ahead and took care of business well ahead of time when it comes to 2019-free-agent-to-be Adam Henrique. Following an outstanding season from the 28-year-old, who arrived in Anaheim by way of a swap with the New Jersey Devils early last season, the Ducks have given the pivot a five-year extension that carries a $5.85-million cap hit. Over the lifetime of the deal, it will pay Henrique $29.25 million.
Locking down Henrique is a savvy play for Anaheim. Last season, he fell one point short of matching his career high, but his 24 goals and 50 points made for one of the most productive campaigns of his career. Add to it that his 20 goals and 36 points once arriving in Anaheim were the second- and seventh-best totals, respectively, despite the fact he played only 57 games and it only makes sense to keep Henrique around for the foreseeable future.
As a second-line pivot in Anaheim, Henrique can help institute some change for the Ducks, as well. Over the next few seasons, the Ducks seems destined to have some turnover as they likely rid themselves of some more veteran talents and replace them with players who are currently entering their prime. Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, whose effectiveness and ability to play this season due to injury are already being called into question, could be among those who depart in the near future, at which time Henrique’s presence will be all the more important.
BJORKSTRAND, BLUE JACKETS DO BRIDGE DEAL
During his first full NHL campaign, Oliver Bjorkstrand’s ice time was that of a fourth-liner. He averaged 14:18 while skating in all 82 games for Columbus. Yet, despite his limited ice time, the 23-year-old winger was one of the Blue Jackets’ most effective offensive weapons. While he didn’t light the lamp all that often — 11 times, with three of those coming on the power play — he found the scoresheet 40 times and finished fifth in scoring and fourth among Columbus’ forwards. So, with his deal up, Bjorkstrand bet on himself, signing a three-year, $7.5-million deal that will take him through to the 2021-22 campaign.
There are two ways to look at the deal, too. The first is that with Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Zach Werenski all due new deals next season, signing a bridge deal with Bjorkstrand now frees up money for next season without having to break the bank. The issue with that, and the other way to look at the short-term bridge contract, is that Bjorkstrand might be exactly the type of player who will make Columbus pay dearly for not locking him up to a more cap-friendly long-term deal now. Last season, per 60 minutes of ice time at all strengths, Bjorkstrand scored 2.1 points, a rate that put him fourth among all 1,000-minute players in Columbus and 137th in the NHL. And while the latter may not seem all that impressive, it was a rate commensurate with the likes of Jonathan Drouin, Kyle Okposo, T.J. Oshie and Paul Stastny.
Columbus is choosing to pay less now at the risk of paying much more later. But if Bjorkstrand develops into a 60- to 70-point top-six contributor by the time his deal is up, the Blue Jackets will likely be more than willing to spend to keep him around. And the good news is Columbus will still control his rights.
CANADIENS, DANAULT AVOID ARBITRATION WITH THREE-YEAR PACT
He was hardly a throw-in in Montreal’s February 2016 deadline deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, but over the past two seasons, Phillip Danault has proven himself to be a key cog in the Canadiens forward corps. And come next season, he’ll be paid as such.
As of Sunday, Montreal has avoided arbitration with Danault by inking the 25-year-old to a three-year, $9.25-million deal. And while to some it may seem an overpay for a player scored just eight goals and 25 points in 52 games last season, Danault has become an integral part of the Canadiens’ top six in rather short order.
After standing out with a 13-goal, 40-point performance in his first campaign in Montreal, Danault was given more responsibility last season as his average ice time increased by a full minute and he boasted the third-highest average ice time of any Canadiens forward last season, trailing only Drouin and Max Pacioretty. Maybe Danault’s larger role shouldn’t have come as a surprise, however, as his responsible two-way play makes him easy to ice in all situations. He can operate as a top-unit penalty killer and a top-six pivot or winger depending on what’s asked of him, and that versatility lends itself to plenty of opportunities.
The short-term nature of Danault’s contract could pay dividends for him, too. He will be eligible hit the open market come 2021-22, and if he cements himself as a capable second-line center, there will be plenty of teams coming knocking.
MURRAY ACCEPTS COLUMBUS’ QUALIFYING OFFER
Injury-related stops and starts have plagued Ryan Murray’s career almost from the moment he was selected second overall by the Blue Jackets in the 2012 draft, but the 24-year-old blueliner has faith that he can get back on track in Columbus. After being limited to 44 games last season, which marked the fourth time in five seasons that Murray has sat out more than a dozen games, Murray accepted a one-year, $2.825-million qualifying offer from the Blue Jackets.
There is still hope yet for Murray in Columbus, too, despite the fact he has undoubtedly been surpassed by fellow 2012 first-round draftee blueliners such as Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Matt Dumba and Olli Maatta. Before and after an upper-body injury kept him out of 34 games last season, Murray was scoring at more than a quarter of a point per game while driving play from the back end. He started nearly 53 percent of his even strength shifts in the defensive zone, but his Corsi for percentage hovered around the break-even mark.
Has Murray slipped on the depth chart? Of course. But coach John Tortorella’s willingness to trot Murray out as the third-highest minute rearguard during the playoffs is proof positive that the staff has faith in the defender’s ability. He just has to stay healthy and show he can contribute even more than he already has.
HARTMAN GETS ONE-YEAR DEAL WITH PREDATORS
The Predators wanted Ryan Hartman at the deadline last season. So bad, in fact, that Nashville flipped a first-round pick, fourth-round pick and prospect Victor Ejdsell to the division-rival Chicago Blackhawks in order to nab the pesky 23-year-old winger. And while the Hartman experiment in Nashville hasn’t exactly been an altogether flop, it certainly hasn’t panned out the way the Predators would have hoped, at least not to this point.
In his first 21 games in Nashville, Hartman scored three goals and six points in a fourth-line role, but his rate of point production dropped off by nearly one-fifth of a point per game. And acquired in part because he was believed to be a piece that could help the Predators chase the Stanley Cup, Hartman found himself suspended for one game and scratched for three others during Nashville’s two-round playoff run.
The Predators are giving Hartman another shot to prove himself, however, as they announced Sunday a one-year pact for the winger, but one that will hardly see him earn a raise. On his three-year entry-level deal, Hartman earned $823,500 annually, and his new contract carries only a marginally greater cap hit at $875,000. It’s clear Nashville wants Hartman to prove himself worthy of more, and he’ll have the chance this coming campaign.
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