Ranking the NHL's 2014 outdoor schedule

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Ranking the NHL's 2014 outdoor schedule

On Jan. 1, the 2014 Winter Classic will kick start the NHL’s outdoor schedule, during which a total of six games will be played in the elements. Here’s how I rank them:

Penguins vs. Blackhawks, March 1, Soldier Field
A Windy City winter wonderland will provide hockey fans a star-studded outdoor classic in what could be a Stanley Cup Finals preview.

Soldier Field, just off the shore of Lake Michigan, could make for a frigid affair in a stadium that produced the Monsters of the Midway. The aerials and scenes of downtown Chicago in the distance will only add to the allure of this game.

The 2009 contest between the Blackhawks and Red Wings at Wrigley Field produced one of the best Winter Classics to date, but this matchup has the potential of topping it.

Pond hockey rating: 10

Ducks vs. Kings, Jan. 25, Dodger Stadium
What makes this game intriguing, perhaps even more than the two teams involved, is the question of whether an outdoor hockey game can actually be played in Southern California.

Temperatures in L.A. late in January range from the high 40s to the low 50s. Any chance of seeing palm trees adorn the field at Dodger Stadium would serve as a nice touch.

This is the also the first game after the Winter Classic, so the novelty of an outdoor setting will still have a uniqueness about it.

The Ducks and Kings are currently the top two teams in the Pacific Division, and their L.A.-based rivalry just might boil over at Chavez Ravine.

Pond hockey rating: 8

Red Wings vs. Maple Leafs, Jan. 1, Michigan Stadium
An Original Six matchup in a stadium filled with nostalgia is certain to produce an attendance record for an NHL game.

Unfortunately, HBO’s "24/7" isn’t creating much buildup as Detroit and Toronto continue to struggle heading into this game with no real compelling storylines developing between either team. Both teams desperately need their star players healthy for this game to have any entertainment value.

Still, it’s New Year’s Day with Doc Emrick calling the shots on NBC. Tough to beat.

Pond hockey rating: 6.5

Devils vs. Rangers, Jan. 26, Yankee Stadium
Outdoor hockey in The Big Apple for the first time.

The timing of this game is ideal as it won’t be swallowed up by the hype of an NFL Sunday. This game conveniently falls between the AFC/NFC Championship weekend and the Super Bowl at nearby MetLife Stadium the following week when sports fans are languishing for anything before the big game.

Although the Devils and Rangers have been mediocre in the first half of the season, the possibility of a Henrik Lundqvist-Martin Brodeur showdown could make this game one of the memorable ones on the schedule.

Pond hockey rating: 5.5

Senators vs. Canucks, March 2, BC Place
After watching the Penguins and Blackhawks the previous day, the Heritage Classic will feel like the Triple-A All-Star Game, which is typically played the day after Major League baseball’s Midsummer Classic.

Certainly, there will be excitement north of the border, but here in the U.S., the interest level will rank right up there with an Indians-Mariners doubleheader in a venue that holds no historical relevance.

However, the Canucks are still in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, which gives this game some credibility. Let’s hope the Senators can turn their season around in time to make this game an important one for both teams.

Pond hockey rating: 4

Islanders vs. Rangers, Jan. 29, Yankee Stadium
On a bad day (Wednesday), with a bad team (the Islanders are at the bottom of the woeful Metropolitan Division), in a venue where the novelty will have already worn off after watching the Devils and Rangers three days earlier.

By then, sports fans will be in all-out Super Bowl mode. Barring a four-goal effort from John Tavares or a 10-round shootout, I fear this game will be the real dud on the outdoor circuit.

Pond hockey rating: 2

Ron Hextall sees benefit in Brayden Schenn's 'market deal'

Ron Hextall sees benefit in Brayden Schenn's 'market deal'

Expensive at the start, cheaper at the finish.
 
That’s how Flyers general manager Ron Hextall views the four-year, $20.5 million contract he gave Brayden Schenn on Monday morning to avoid salary arbitration (see story).
 
Hextall admitted the club is overpaying up front on the deal, but believes it got a “fair” number for the final two years, when Schenn would have become an unrestricted free agent.
 
“We took a higher cap hit for the first two years and essentially a lower hit than we would have taken in years three and four if we piece meal it together,” Hextall said.
 
Hextall said he was walking into the 9 a.m. Toronto hearing with agent Don Meehan already deep in a conversation on a deal but prepared to go through with arbitration.
 
Both parties asked arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier for additional time and completed the contract by 9:45 a.m.
 
Schenn, a restricted free agent, turned down the Flyers’ two-year offer of $4.25 million for this coming season and $4.369 million in 2017-18. That averaged to $4.3 million.
 
His new contract averages $5.125 million.
 
“The benefit for us is our cap number stays flat for four years rather than having have a cap at a lower number then taking a run at him for two years, if in fact he’d sign for two years at a higher cap number,” Hextall said.
 
Hextall denied he was concerned he might get whacked in arbitration. Yet Schenn has had just one very good season in five years as a Flyer. That was last season with 26 goals and 59 points.
 
Hextall described Schenn as a player who has been “average” in his development, yet has improved in the subtle “intricacies” of the game such as finding open spots, avoiding shot blocks and coming cleanly across the blue line without turning the puck over.
 
Schenn’s true market value is closer to what New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, a 25-year-old right wing, signed earlier this month: a five-year deal worth $23.25 with an AAV of $4.65 million.
 
Then again, St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz signed a five-year, $26.5 million deal with a $5.35 million AAV. That’s above market value.
 
Meehan originally sought an AAV of $5.5 million for Schenn. In arbitration, it’s likely the Flyers would have received a two-year award in the middle of both numbers.
 
“Nothing really concerned me [about arbitration],” Hextall said. “We had a range and in the end our range was close to what Brayden’s camp felt the range was. Both sides had a range on a two-year deal.

“It’s a market deal. ... Brayden has been a good player. Top-six forwards are hard to find and there’s a premium to pay. There’s no question we paid a premium for a top-six forward who's 24 years old and essentially coming into his prime.”
 
While Hextall labeled Schenn a top-six forward, he tap-danced around whether he sees him as a “core” player for the Flyers, even though this makes him the third highest-paid forward behind Claude Giroux ($8.275 million) and Jakub Voracek ($8.25 million).
 
“What is a core [player]?” Hextall asked. “That’s arguable. ... What we do know is Brayden is a very good young player who is getting better and we hope he continues to get better.”
 
This signing leaves the Flyers with just $1.38 million in salary cap space, but with 14 forwards, the club will lose at least one by the end of training camp.
 
Thinking ahead, Jordan Weal could be sent to the Phantoms, shaving $650,000 off the cap. That’s the most likely option for the Flyers, but not their only option.
 
Scott Laughton, whose role was diminished by a strong presence from Nick Cousins, is a lesser possibility. His cap hit is $863,333.
 
Losing either of those two salaries would provide the Flyers over $2 million in cap space.
 
Schenn’s contract lacks a no-trade/no-movement clause that he would have been eligible for starting in 2018-19. He turns 25 in August.
 
The Flyers have one more arbitration to settle: defenseman Brandon Manning on Aug. 2.

Flyers, Brayden Schenn agree to 4-year contract

Flyers, Brayden Schenn agree to 4-year contract

In the end, the Flyers blinked and avoided arbitration Monday morning by overpaying Brayden Schenn with a four-year, $20.5 million contract.
 
The contract leaves the club in a precarious salary cap situation, as the Flyers have just $1.38 million in space now, according to generalfanager.com.
 
The 11th-hour settlement saw the Flyers and Schenn’s agent, Don Meehan, avoid arbitration, which was set for 9 a.m. in Toronto.
 
Meehan was seeking a deal worth $5.5 million for Schenn, who was a restricted free agent.
 
The one Schenn signed will average $5.125 million, according to a source, which still seems excessively high for the 24-year-old, who has had just one excellent season in five full years in the NHL, excluding two partial seasons with the Los Angeles Kings.
 
Schenn had his most productive year last season with career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59), while showing he could play wing on Claude Giroux’s line with Wayne Simmonds.
 
The Flyers and Schenn were more than $1 million apart going into Monday morning with no progress having been made over this past weekend.
 
Why general manager Ron Hextall didn’t risk the arbitration process remains unanswered. The contracts of some players in comparable situations favored a settlement less than what the Flyers agreed to.
 
The Flyers had offered Schenn a two-year deal that would have paid him $4.25 million this coming season and $4.369 million in 2017-18. That’s an average of $4.3 million.
 
New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, a 25-year-old right wing, signed a five-year deal earlier this month worth $23.25 million. His AAV is $4.65 million. That’s the figure the Flyers could have gambled on getting from an arbitrator.
 
They may have been scared away from going through with the arbitration because of the five-year, $26.5 million deal fellow RFA Jaden Schwartz signed with St. Louis earlier that carried a $5.35 million hit.
 
Hextall was not immediately available for comment.
 
TSN’s Bob McKenzie first reported the financials of the contract.

Flyers and Brayden Schenn to go to arbitration

Flyers and Brayden Schenn to go to arbitration

Barring an 11th-hour settlement, the Flyers will go to arbitration on Monday against swing forward Brayden Schenn.
 
The hearing is slated for 9 a.m.
 
The two sides are more than $1 million apart with no progress having been made over this past weekend.
 
“We will probably go to arbitration,” Don Meehan, the agent for Schenn, said Sunday.
 
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall seemed to concur.
 
“I’m not overly optimistic,” he said about avoiding arbitration.
 
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto filed last summer but signed without going to a hearing.
 
The 24-year-old Schenn is the highest-profile Flyer to get this far without signing since John LeClair back in 2000. He received $7 million — the highest one-year award ever.
 
By filing on July 5, Meehan assured his client will get a contract. The Flyers’ qualified Schenn, who earned $2.75 million last season, on June 30.
 
He is a restricted free agent, who could earn close to $5 million a season on his next deal. And that’s the sticky part.
 
Sources said the Flyers offered a two-year deal that would pay Schenn $4.25 million this coming season and $4.369 million in 2017-18 (see story). That’s an AAV of $4.30 million.
 
Meehan wants $5.50 million, which is excessively high given Schenn’s seven-year career thus far.
 
At the same time, if you look at the some of the RFA signings this summer, as Meehan surely has, the comparable numbers would suggest Schenn is worth slightly more than what the Flyers have offered.
 
Two examples here: New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri, a 25-year-old right wing, signed a five-year deal earlier this month worth $23.25 million. His AAV is $4.65 million. That’s the correct ballpark for Schenn.
 
Schenn had his most productive year last season with career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59) while proving he can play the wing on Claude Giroux’s line with Wayne Simmonds on the right side.
 
Palmieri had career-highs as well in goals (30), assists (27) and points (57).
 
Problem is, the other end of the spectrum, where Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues sits.
 
The 24-year-old center recently signed a five-year, $26.5 million deal as an RFA with an AAV of $5.35 million. That’s far higher than Hextall wants to go with Schenn at this point.
 
A fractured ankle and subsequent surgery ruined Schwartz’ past season (33 games played), but Blues’ general manager Doug Armstrong looked at what Schwartz accomplished two years ago — career-highs with 28 goals, 35 assists and 63 points – and used that as a barometer for the future.
 
That deal hurts the Flyers here with Schenn.
 
Hextall’s offer suggests the Flyers want Schenn to prove he’s a $5 million player, which means show the Flyers 30 goals and 70 points this season.
 
Schenn finished second in goals to Simmonds (32) and third in points behind Giroux (67) and Simmonds (60) last season.
 
The arbitrator should be able to locate a fair medium. Expect Meehan to ask for a one-year award only.