2013-14 NHL season: A fearless forecast

crystal-ball-base--hockey.jpg

2013-14 NHL season: A fearless forecast

If I owned a crystal ball, this would be about the time I’d pull it out.

I don’t, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to try and predict the way the NHL standings will look six months from now.

Remember: Things work a little differently in the post-lockout era. The top three teams from each division will clinch a spot in the playoffs, as well as the two teams from each conference with the highest points total outside those six teams (doesn’t matter whether there’s one from each division or both come from the same division).

Let’s get down to business …

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division
Predicted winner: Boston Bruins
The Bruins, of course, lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in last season’s Stanley Cup Final. They also lost some talent this offseason (the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr come to mind), but they’re still dangerous. It will be interesting to see how they fare in their new-look division, but right now, it seems like it’s theirs to lose.

The rest of the pack
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
5. Montreal Canadiens
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Florida Panthers

Metropolitan Division
Predicted winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens have proven they’re a tough team to beat -- during the regular season, at least. They’ve still got the depth they had in 2013, and if they can get over whatever has plagued them during the postseason over the past few seasons, they should be in for a long playoff run too. The caveat? Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who not only is currently lacking a solid backup option, but has, well, imploded in seasons past.

The rest of the pack
2. Washington Capitals
3. New York Rangers
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. New York Islanders
7. Carolina Hurricanes
8. Columbus Blue Jackets

(Note: I’m really, really sorry Flyers fans. If things were to play out like this … your Philadelphia Flyers would likely miss the postseason for the second consecutive year.)

Western Conference

Central Division

Predicted Winner: Chicago Blackhawks
Last year’s Stanley Cup winning team has still got it. They’re not going to repeat their crazy win streak that started their 2013 campaign, but they should also have little problem staying at the top of their division. Yes, the Hawks lost Ray Emery to the Flyers, but the bulk of the team’s key players remain. Also, Corey Crawford proved that he’s able to carry a bulk of the work -- including through the postseason.

The rest of the pack

2. St. Louis Blues.
3. Colorado Avalance
4. Dallas Stars
5. Minnesota Wild
6. Nashville Predators
7. Winnipeg Jets

Pacific Division
Predicted Winner: Los Angeles Kings
Two years after their ride from eighth seed to Stanley Cup champion, the Kings are still the team to beat on the West Coast. They’ve got the goalie, they’ve got the offense, they’ve got the necessary depth and they’ve definitely got the leadership. Remember, this was the team who sat Simon Gagne as a healthy scratch before trading him back to the Flyers.

The rest of the pack

2. San Jose Sharks
3. Anaheim Ducks
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Phoenix Coyotes
6. Edmonton Oilers
7. Calgary Flames

Who’s in the Stanley Cup: Let’s have some fun here, and say it’s the St. Louis Blues vs. the Detroit Red Wings, with the Blues bringing home the hardware.

It’s a tough call -- part of me thinks it’s smarter to pick the Blackhawks to do it again instead of the Blues, but where’s the fun in that? I like Ken Hitchcock as a coach, and the Blues have been steadily improving over their last few seasons. They’ve got a pretty balanced lineup and solid goaltending, too. Plus, after living in St. Louis for a few years, I can tell you the city could use it.

What do you think? Am I way off? How do you see things playing out in each division? Let’s take the debate to the comments section.

NHL Notes: Predators sign Calle Jarnkrok to 6-year, $12 million contract

NHL Notes: Predators sign Calle Jarnkrok to 6-year, $12 million contract

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have signed defenseman Matt Carle to a one-year contract hours after signing forward Calle Jarnkrok to a six-year, $12 million contract through 2021-22.

Under the deals announced by the Predators on Wednesday, Carle will earn $700,000 this season while Jarnkrok will earn $1.7 million this season rising to $2.2 million in both 2019-20 and 2020-2021 before dipping to $2 million in the final year.

The 31-year-old Carle is a veteran of 724 NHL games with 282 points while playing with San Jose, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia where he played for now Nashville coach Peter Laviolette. The 6-foot, 197-pound defenseman spent the past four seasons with Tampa Bay, which included a berth in the 2015 Stanley Cup finals.

The 24-year-old Jarnkrok played in 71 games last season and scored a career-high 16 goals with 30 points. The native of Gavle, Sweden, was second on the team with four game-winning goals last season.

The 51st pick overall by Detroit in the 2010 entry draft, Jarnkrok was traded to Nashville on March 5, 2014, and was a restricted free agent.

Lightning: Namestnikov re-signs for 2 years
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed forward Vladislav Namestnikov to a two-year, $3.875 million contract Wednesday.

The 23-year-old appeared in 80 games last season, finishing with 14 goals and 35 points. He had one goal and four points while skating in 17 games during the playoffs. In 127 career NHL games, the Russian has 23 goals and 51 points.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman announced the deal.

Hurricanes: Head coach Bill Peters extended 3 years
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes signed coach Bill Peters to a contract extension through the 2018-19 season, general manager Ron Francis said Wednesday.

Peters has a record of 65-72-27 in two seasons while leading the Hurricanes' rebuilding project. They finished this season sixth in the Metropolitan Division with a 35-31-16 record, but earned 86 points -- their most since 2010-11, and a 15-point improvement from Peters' first year.

"We knew it wasn't going to be a quick turnaround," Peters said. "It takes time. ... I just like the direction we're headed in, and we're headed in that direction for a long period of time."

The Hurricanes used three rookies in the rotation on defense, and mounted a last-gasp -- but ultimately unsuccessful -- push for their first playoff appearance since 2009 by earning points in 12 of the 14 games that came after trading captain and franchise face Eric Staal to the New York Rangers.

Terms of Peters' extension were not disclosed. Peters was entering the final year of a three-year contract he signed in June 2014, when he was hired to take over for the fired Kirk Muller.

"You've got a head coach heading into the last year of his deal," Francis said. "It's important that if you like him and you want to have him around, you get this done."

The Hurricanes have reached the playoffs just once since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. Carolina's seven-year postseason drought is the longest among Eastern Conference teams.

"Professionally, it's the right thing for me, and I want to see this thing through, and I want to get in the playoffs, and I want to get on a run," Peters said.

With Brandon Manning signed, what's next for Flyers?

With Brandon Manning signed, what's next for Flyers?

Now that young defenseman Brandon Manning has been re-signed, the Flyers wiped the table clean of any unfinished business with potential arbitration hearings this summer.
 
For now, they are done with their in-house reorganizing, but could still do a deal for a scoring winger at some point moving forward.
 
Manning’s signing left the club with 23 players for the coming season on the NHL roster — 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies.
 
More significantly, it also left the Flyers with little salary cap breathing room — $1.038 million, according to generalfanager.com.
 
They still have to lose a forward even though they opened with 14 last season. General manager Ron Hextall might start with eight defensemen, which brings us to 13 forwards.
 
Right now, the top target among the forwards to be sent to the AHL would be Jordan Weal ($650,000 cap hit).
 
That gives them the right number of forwards, but what about creating a spot for prospect Travis Konecny if — and that’s a big if — he’s ready to make the NHL cut out of training camp?
 
Hextall has said several times since the season ended that regardless of how his roster stands, if a prospect is ready for the NHL, he’ll find a spot for him.
 
Which brings us to the defense. Manning is the perfect seventh man on the defense. He was both that and a regular last season while playing 56 games. He also helps the Flyers in another way.
 
If he plays 14 games this season (70 overall in two seasons), he would be eligible to be exposed in next summer’s NHL expansion draft because he is also under contract for the following year, another stipulation in the expansion rules.
 
That doesn’t mean he won’t be exposed. Under the NHL’s expansion rules, teams will have the option of protecting one goaltender, three defensemen and seven forwards. Or they can protect one goalie and eight skaters, four of which can be defensemen.
 
Given Andrew MacDonald’s $5 million cap hit, you can be sure he will be exposed.
 
The issue for the present, however, is how will the Flyers fit defensive prospect Ivan Provorov onto the roster, if he can make the club out of camp?
 
Provorov was impressive in development camp. When compared against fellow prospects Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg, he was easily above them in terms of overall development.
 
The simple solution here would be to move veteran defenseman Mark Streit, who turns 39 in December. Streit has a no-trade clause but would likely waive it to remain in the NHL. Except there hasn’t been any interest in Streit since last winter.
 
Streit doesn’t have a no-movement clause, so like MacDonald, he could go to the AHL Phantoms, but because of his salary ($5.25 million), the most the Flyers can save off their cap is $950,000.
 
The Flyers could also move Nick Schultz, even to the minors, and save $950,000. Schultz, however, played very well in the playoffs and Hextall has said more than once he likes what he brings off the ice in terms of leadership around younger players.
 
The easy move would be to send Manning ($975,000) to the Phantoms and promote Provorov. Because of his age (19), Provorov either plays with the Flyers or returns to his WHL club this fall. His NHL cap hit would be less than Manning — $894,166.
 
Yet seeing how things unfolded last season, it’s more likely that MacDonald would again be a cap victim and return to the AHL rather than have him sit there as the seventh defenseman, which doesn’t do him any good unless the Flyers carry eight defensemen and 13 forwards.
 
At present, generalfanager.com has the Flyers at $71,961,666 out of the $73 million cap, including the buyout of R.J. Umberger. Eliminating Weal and Manning while adding Provorov leaves them at $71,230,832. Their cap space would be $1.76 million.
 
All the above assumes Hextall doesn’t make any trades, plus Nick Cousins, Scott Laughton and Boyd Gordon all make the final roster. It’s not a given all three do. Gordon's cap hit is $950,000 — almost as much as Manning's.
 
Because the Flyers could go with an extra forward or defenseman, it sets up all kinds of possibilities with the final roster come training camp.
 
At least one player figures to lose their job.

End to End: Analyzing Brayden Schenn's contract

End to End: Analyzing Brayden Schenn's contract

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

Is Brayden Schenn's contract a good deal for the Flyers?

Dougherty
It's understandable why some portion of Flyers fans have responded to Schenn's contract extension with caution; the $5.125 million is a bit high for what he's done consistently. But we live in a salary cap world in which the cap is not rising at the rate we would like.

We have to consider that when analyzing contracts. As Sportsnet's Colton Praill eloquently opined about bridge contracts back on July 13, we've seen teams get burnt by bad contracts. Look at the Chicago Blackhawks, who have had to move players to fit under the cap.

Part of surviving the cap world is making smart bets on players, and that requires breaking down what they have done already but more importantly, what you believe they'll do in the future. And Ron Hextall has done a decent job of that in his tenure as GM.

A perfect example of that is Sean Couturier's contract. It was a higher cap hit than his offensive production warranted at the time, but a deal we would look back on as a steal.

Now, Schenn's development is nearly complete. It's a different situation, but the same idea. If Schenn is a 26-goal, 59-point player, his $5.125 million AAV is fair.

If there's another level we haven't seen from the 24-year-old, then this is a totally different conversation in a few years.

In the end, the Flyers are betting on Schenn being the player he was from Jan. 1, 2016, through the end of the season, and living in the cap world, it's a smart play.

Hall
The Flyers were going to re-sign Brayden Schenn, through an arbitrator or not.

And when it was all said and done, no matter if the average annual value was slightly lower or higher than the $5.125 million of Schenn’s new four-year contract, the Flyers were still going to be handcuffed by the cap.

So the Flyers avoided what can be a messy arbitration process by finding a happy medium with a strategic deal that behooves the Flyers long term, as Ron Hextall explained.

Now they have longer team control over Schenn, who could have signed for fewer years, upped his game and ballooned his payday as an unrestricted free agent.

Like Hextall said, top-six forwards entering their prime "are hard to find."

Yeah, the Flyers probably overpaid just a bit, but that’s the NHL market — it’s far from perfect.

Paone
There’s a reason these kinds of things are categorized as negotiations. There’s give and take involved. In the case of Brayden Schenn’s contract, there was probably a little more give than Ron Hextall and the Flyers would have liked. The numbers reported over the weekend tell us the Flyers didn’t necessarily want to go over the $5 million per year threshold with Schenn, even though the 24-year-old forward is coming off a career year of 26 goals and 33 assists.

But just because the Flyers went over their projected budget by going a smidge over $5 million doesn’t mean this is a terrible deal for the team. Not by any means. By now, you’ve probably read or heard Hextall use the term “market deal” when describing this contract. And that’s accurate because that’s the way the NHL is going these days. Yes, Schenn has had inconsistency issues over his first five seasons in Philadelphia. But young scorers don’t grow on trees. You have to pay to keep the ones you have. New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider and St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz are just a few examples. Schenn is just the latest. There will be more young scorers out there, flaws be damned, who will get paid sooner rather than later.

Sure, Schenn picked a great time last year — a contract year — to have a career season. And that pushed the Flyers to reward him. Now, it’s up to him to reward the Flyers’ faith.