All posts by Cory Wilkins

Oilers trade Eberle to Islanders for Strome

The Edmonton Oilers have traded forward Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders in exchange for forward Ryan Strome, the Oilers announced Thursday.

Eberle appeared in all 82 games with the Oilers last season, registering 20 goals and 31 assists. Through 13 playoff contests, the 27-year-old was limited to just two points.

Strome - selected fifth overall by the Islanders in 2011 - skated in 69 games last season, finishing with 13 goals and 17 assists.

The move is somewhat of salary cap deal for the Oilers. Eberle was slated to earn $6 million over the next two seasons, while Strome is signed through 2017-18 at $2.5 million.

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Report: NHL sets 2017-18 salary cap at $75M

The NHL salary cap will be set at $75 million next season, according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

It's an increase of $2 million from last season's cap, which was set at $73 million. The cap floor next season has been set at $55.4 million.

The NHL introduced the salary cap in the 2005-06 season, when it was set at $39 million.

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Ranking the top 80 unrestricted free agents: 20-11

June is an incredibly busy month for the NHL, but that doesn't mean we can't look ahead to what's coming. Free agency begins at 12 p.m. ET on July 1, and we're ranking the top 80 unrestricted free agents in a seven-post series ahead of the madness.

As we count down the UFA market from 20th to 11th, this veteran group ranks near the best of what may be available this summer:

20. Mike Condon (G)

Age on Oct. 1: 27
2016-17 Cap Hit: $575K

With starter Craig Anderson away from the Ottawa Senators to be with his ill wife, the subsequent acquisition of Condon proved to be a season-saver for the Sens.

Stepping into the Ottawa crease, Condon carried the ball for the Senators, including a stretch which saw the netminder make 27 straight appearances. For Condon, it marked the second time he has been thrust into the starter's job after taking over for an injured Carey Price while with the Montreal Canadiens a year ago.

Now facing the possibility of unrestricted free agency, Condon could cash in on his performance, but there are certainly no assurances he'll get an extended stay with the Senators.

19. Brendan Smith (D)

Age on Oct. 1: 28
2016-17 Cap Hit: $2.75M

A market-value contract should keep Smith on the New York Rangers' blue line. That was the stance from his agent, who in May stated Smith likes the Rangers and his role on the team, but he'll need to be shown the money.

Acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in a trade deadline deal that saw the Rangers part with a pair of draft choices, Smith impressed during his short showing in Manhattan. In the postseason, he was regularly relied on by coach Alain Vigneault, seeing the third-most ice time among New York defenders.

Early reports indicate it will take north of $4 million annually to keep Smith in New York, a substantial raise from his current cap hit of $2.75 million.

18. Patrick Marleau (F)

Age on Oct. 1: 38
2016-17 Cap Hit: $6.667M

Marleau has been the face of the Sharks since he was selected second overall in 1997, but the team could very well move on from its one-time captain.

Finishing with 27 goals last season, only Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski found the back of the net more often than Marleau. While he's still a contributor, a potential contract extension could pose complications. At 37 years old, it would be favorable for the Sharks to see Marleau accept a one-year deal. Any longer and San Jose runs the risk of an early retirement and being left on the hook for Marleau's cap hit (i.e. the next Pavel Datsyuk).

But in averaging 24 goals over the past three seasons, and not missing a game since 2008-09, Marleau could command a multi-year deal and the dollars to go with it. Still, cap concerns could force Marleau to accept a pay cut if he wishes to remain in the Bay Area.

17. Radim Vrbata (F)

Age on Oct. 1: 36
2016-17 Cap Hit: $1M

Vrbata has made it known he likes life in the desert. After struggling through the 2015-16 season with the Vancouver Canucks, the veteran winger returned for his third tour of duty with the Arizona Coyotes.

Agreeing a bonus-laden contract with Arizona, Vrbata earned a $1-million base salary that later doubled upon reaching games-played and point plateaus. By season's end, Vrbata led the Coyotes with 55 points.

That performance demonstrated that Vrbata hasn't lost his scoring touch. And while he is happy in the desert and is likely to re-sign with the Coyotes, he's proven himself this time around, meaning he's sure to aim for a condition-free contract.

16. Jaromir Jagr (F)

Age on Oct. 1: 45
2016-17 Cap Hit: $4M

Jagr could return to the Florida Panthers next season, but there is no urgency for the future Hall of Famer to put pen to paper.

While the Panthers missed the postseason, it was a successful campaign for Jagr, who surpassed Mark Messier for second all time in NHL scoring, while tallying 46 points to finish fourth in Florida scoring. This coming season, a clean bill of health from top forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who saw just 31 games in 2016-17, should go a long way in returning the Panthers to the playoff picture.

There's no doubt Jagr, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, wants to win, and he'll have a chance to do that next season with Florida.

15. Jonathan Bernier (G)

Age on Oct. 1: 29
2016-17 Cap Hit: $4.15M

Bernier is in a conundrum. He had a solid season, which normally means more money on a new deal; but the reality is that Bernier is sure to see a pay cut.

That's because his previous deal was signed when he was the No. 1 for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a different situation with the Anaheim Ducks, as Bernier played second fiddle to John Gibson.

While there are no assurances Bernier will return to Orange County, the likelihood is he'll only land a similar role elsewhere. At this stage, Bernier is a steady backup who can fill in for a struggling or injured starter. If Anaheim isn't an option, a few teams could add Bernier as part of a goaltending tandem.

14. Brian Elliott (G)

Age on Oct. 1: 32
2016-17 Cap Hit: $2.5M

It was a tale of two seasons in what was surely a short stay for Elliott in Calgary. Acquired from the St. Louis Blues last offseason, Elliott struggled through his early goings in Calgary, winning just three of his first 12 games in a Flames jersey.

That all changed down the season's stretch drive, with Elliott seemingly finding a comfort in Calgary as he rattled off 11 straight victories, pushing the Flames into the postseason for just the second time since 2009.

But in the playoffs, Elliott's play was forgettable, as the Flames were swept by the Ducks. It all came crashing down in Game 4, when Elliott lasted just six minutes, three shots, and one goal against before getting the early hook, effectively ending his time in Calgary.

13. Ryan Miller (G)

Age on Oct. 1: 37
2016-17 Cap Hit: $6M

The Canucks have expressed interest in bringing back Miller, and that feeling may be mutual, with Miller preferring life on the west coast. The issue lies in Vancouver's plans for the veteran netminder, which could see Miller slide into a secondary role behind up-and-comer Jacob Markstrom.

This despite Miller owning a save rate that outpaced not only Markstrom, but the likes of Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Jones, both highly regarded goalies on teams that qualified for the postseason. Not to mention their squads had far superior supporting casts when compared to the Canucks.

While Miller is unlikely to lock down a starter's role, odds are that he can find a situation better than Vancouver, which finished second to last in 2016-17. The 37-year-old remains on the lookout for his first Stanley Cup and he'll need to venture outside of British Columbia for a shot to win it all.

12. Justin Williams (F)

Age on Oct. 1: 35
2016-17 Cap Hit: $3.25M

"Mr. Game 7" should have plenty of suitors this offseason. The three-time Stanley Cup champion and 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy winner is one of many Washington Capitals eligible for unrestricted free agency, and that cap crunch could leave Williams looking elsewhere for work.

Williams had a solid season with the Capitals, potting 48 points, which ranks him among the top five right-wingers who could reach free agency. Meanwhile, his 24 goals sit third, behind only Patrick Eaves and teammate T.J. Oshie.

For teams seeking experience, particularly a veteran who often plays the playoff hero, they'd be hard-pressed to fare better than Williams.

11. Andrei Markov (D)

Age on Oct. 1: 38
2016-17 Cap Hit: $5.75M

It would be strange to see Markov suiting up in another uniform, but Montreal fans shouldn't worry. The career Canadien still fills a role for the Habs - that is, a veteran puck-mover on the left side of the blue line. In all likelihood, it's only a matter of time before Markov re-ups in Montreal.

Appearing in 62 games last season, Markov put together a 36-point campaign, second to only Shea Weber among Montreal defensemen. That averages to 0.58 points per game, consistent with Markov's production rate over the past three seasons.

Looking forward, the veteran blue-liner has earned a similar pay clip, but likely on a one-year term, given the restrictions of contracts signed after 35.

Free Agent Rankings

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)

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Penguins’ defense deserves all the credit in the world

Defense wins championships.

That adage proved true again with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who on Sunday captured their second-straight Stanley Cup, doing so on the backs of a mishmash of a blue line.

The group logging time for the Penguins in Game 6 included Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole, Ron Hainsey, and Brian Dumoulin, who led the way with more than 26 minutes.

While there is no top-notch defender among them, collectively they pushed the Penguins to a second consecutive championship.

"We call them the Motley Crue," said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, according to Sportsnet's John Shannon. "They are our unsung heroes ... We couldn't be more proud of them back there."

Among them is the 36-year-old Hainsey, who arrived in Pittsburgh at the deadline following a trade from the Carolina Hurricanes having never skated in the postseason. In the eight weeks that followed, he went from playoff rookie to Stanley Cup champion.

The Penguins' defensive core is reminiscent of the rearguards who guided the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006, a group of wily veterans and strong defenders, but one that wouldn't be confused for a collection of Norris Trophy nominees.

That Hurricanes team was the most recent outfit to win it all without a No. 1 defenseman, and was a squad assembled by Jim Rutherford, now the general manager of the Penguins who has laid a similar blueprint in Pittsburgh.

"You can do it without a No. 1 guy," Rutherford told Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You've got to manage their minutes, those guys have got to play within themselves and that's what our six defensemen did. They played at the highest level they could and got it done."

With the injured Kris Letang on the sidelines, the Penguins' blue-liners who hoisted the Stanley Cup on Sunday were the first group to do so without a Norris vote among the pact.

Winning back-to-back Stanley Cups is one thing, especially in the salary cap era, but doing so without Letang, the team's top defenseman, spoke volumes about Pittsburgh's accomplishment.

Letang, of course, has been out of the lineup since February, but that didn't stop him from being a part of the team's playoff run, sticking around the locker room to share his insights with his fellow defensemen.

But with Letang only left to watch, many had written off the Penguins. It was that perception led the rest of the defensive core to step up, and their play was not lost on captain Sidney Crosby.

"They know the pressure that comes with losing a guy who plays 25 to 30 minutes. They weren't intimidated by it and they took it on. They proved what they're capable of," Crosby told reporters following the victory. "I can't say enough about that group. It was pretty difficult what they were able to do night in and night out."

That feeling across the Penguins' blue line stirred the belief the team could once again claim the Stanley Cup.

"Not too shabby for a 'D' corps that wasn't very good," Cole quipped to Werner. "I think everyone kind of wrote us off when (Letang got hurt). He was such a big part of our run last year, but everyone stuck together, everyone probably assumed a little larger role and elevated their game."

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Subban: Predators will be back in Cup Final next year

The Nashville Predators were so close to victory.

Following the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisting the Stanley Cup on Sunday, doing so after defeating Nashville in six games, it took little time for the Predators to look to the future.

Specifically, defenseman P.K. Subban.

"The biggest thing we've got to take from this is remember the feeling. I don't think you want to fight it. Just let it sink and take it because to get back here that is what is going to drive us," Subban said on Hockey Night in Canada. "We're going to be back here again next year."

The trip to the Cup Final was a first for the Predators, who entered the NHL in 1998.

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Crosby wins 2nd straight Conn Smythe Trophy

Sidney Crosby is the most valuable player of the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Penguins captain finished the postseason with eight goals and 19 assists in 25 games. It is the second straight Conn Smythe Trophy win for Crosby, who captured the award a year ago when the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks to win the Stanley Cup.

Crosby becomes just the third player to win back-to-back Conn Smythes. Goaltender Bernie Parent did so with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974 and 1975, while Mario Lemieux did the same with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

The Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators in six games to capture their fifth championship in franchise history.

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Flyers sign Gostisbehere to multi-year extension

The Philadelphia Flyers have signed defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere to a multi-year contract extension, the team announced Friday.

The 24-year-old completed his second full season with the Flyers last year, finishing with seven goals and 32 assists in 76 games.

Philadelphia selected Gostisbehere in the third round of the 2012 draft.

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Offseason Outlook: San Jose Sharks

With the offseason underway for a number of teams and the remainder to join them in a few weeks, we're looking at what's in store for each club in the coming months.

2016-17 Grade: B

The San Jose Sharks fell in the first round of the playoffs, unable to build on last year's trip to the Stanley Cup Final, as the injury-riddled squad was eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers in six games.

Free Agents

Two players stand out among the handful of skaters due new contracts come July 1: Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

Both former Sharks captains, the aging scorers are still seen as important pieces of San Jose's core. However, the challenge with any new deal will be term, as contracts signed after age 35 can have long-term salary cap implications.

Player (Position) 2017-18 Status Age 2016-17 Cap Hit '16-17 Points
Joe Thornton (F) UFA 37 $6.75M 50
Patrick Marleau (F) UFA 37 $6.667M 46
Micheal Haley (F) UFA 31 $625K 12
Chris Tierney (F) RFA 22 $712K 23

2017 Draft Picks

The Sharks have seven picks in the coming draft. After the first round, San Jose won't pick again until Round 5, having traded its second-, third-, and fourth-rounders. Those selections acquired Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, and Jannik Hansen, plus a compensatory pick was sent to New Jersey for coach Peter DeBoer.

Round Picks
1 1
2 0
3 0
4 0
5 1
6 2 (Own & Coyotes)
7 3 (Own & Blackhawks & Senators)

Summer Priorities

1. Bring back Thornton, move on from Marleau

Thornton's production fell to 50 points this season, down from 82 the previous year. While he's no longer the face of the franchise - that title belongs to defenseman Brent Burns - there is still value in size up the middle, and the Sharks have that in spades in Thornton.

Related: Burns, Crosby, McDavid named Ted Lindsay Award finalists

As for Marleau, he's been a loyal soldier for the franchise that drafted him second overall in 1997, but looming cap concerns could force the longest-standing Shark to test the free-agent waters this summer.

2. Rest and relaxation to prepare for another Cup run

It's difficult to make repeat trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, let alone win it all. The Sharks whiffed in the playoffs this year, but an extended offseason could pay big dividends for a squad which played 106 games last year and followed it up with another 88 contests this campaign.

An extended summer will also aid the ailing Sharks in recovering from an injury-riddled postseason, in which all of Thornton, Marleau, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture played banged up.

3. Inject new blood to the forward ranks

Look for San Jose to add some youth next season, headlined by 2015 top pick Timo Meier. The 20-year-old split this season between the Sharks and the minors, where he finished with 23 points in 33 games with the AHL's Barracudas. He's ready for full-time NHL duty next season.

Sharks fans will also be reminded of Hertl, who was limited to 49 games this season due to a knee injury. The 23-year-old was one of the team's most exciting players a year ago, when he finished with 46 points in 81 games.

2017-18 Outlook

The Sharks' Stanley Cup window hasn't fully closed, but the team's shot at winning it all is becoming increasingly slim as its core ages.

The pieces are there - Pavelski, Couture, Burns, and goaltender Martin Jones - for the Sharks to continue to contend, but the team needs to add more flair to its lineup to keep up with the best of the West. San Jose's 221 goals this season ranked a pedestrian 19th.

Last year's big-ticket free agent, Mikkel Boedker, failed to deliver on offense, as he chipped in just 10 goals. The Sharks need more from him, while they will also look to their young talent in Meier and Hertl to take the next step. The Sharks' core can contribute, but more is needed across the board in order for San Jose to keep its place in the contender's circle.

Offseason Outlook Series

COL | VAN | NJD | ARI | BUF
DET | DAL | FLA | LAK | CAR
WPG | PHI | TBL | NYI | WSH
TOR | CGY | BOS | SJS | STL
NYR | EDM | MTL | ANA | MIN
CBJ | CHI | OTT | PIT | NAS
LGK

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)

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Offseason Outlook: Winnipeg Jets

With the offseason underway for a number of teams and the remainder set to join them in a few weeks, we're looking at what's in store for each club in the coming months.

2016-17 Grade: D

The Winnipeg Jets were among the most exciting teams this season, playing a lineup that featured rookie sensation Patrik Laine, youngster Nikolaj Ehlers, and emerging top center Mark Scheifele.

It made for a team that could score but lacked structure. Winnipeg allowed the fourth-most goals this season as the team's netminders struggled, while the blue line had challenges of its own, from defenseman Tyler Myers missing most of the season with a lower-body injury to Jacob Trouba's month-long absence due to a contract dispute.

Free Agents

Six Jets regulars are free agents this summer, with Marko Dano the most notable among them. The 22-year-old appeared in 38 games this season and remains an important piece for Winnipeg.

Player (Position) 2017-18 Status Age 2016-17 Cap Hit '16-17 Points
Chris Thorburn (F) UFA 33 $1.2M 4
Marko Dano (F) RFA 22 $925K 11
Andrew Copp (F) RFA 22 $925K 17
Brandon Tanev (F) RFA 25 $874K 4
Paul Postma (D) UFA 28 $888K 14
Ben Chiarot (D) RFA 25 $850K 12

Between the pipes, the Jets can wash their hands of veteran netminder Ondrej Pavelec, a pending unrestricted free agent who split the season between the NHL and the minors.

Player (Position) 2017-18 Status Age 2016-17 Cap Hit '16-17 SV%
Ondrej Pavelec (G) UFA 29 $3.9M .888
Connor Hellebuyck (G) RFA 23 $668k .907

2017 Draft Picks

Winnipeg will select 13th overall in the entry draft. The Jets were set to pick at No. 12, but were leapfrogged by the Philadelphia Flyers at the draft lottery, who moved from 13th to second overall.

Round Picks
1 1
2 1
3 1
4 1
5 1
6 1
7 2 (Own & Canadiens)

Summer Priorities

Add a goalie to share duties with Hellebuyck

Hellebuyck is a promising young netminder, but the Jets need insurance in the crease in order to make measurable progress.

While Winnipeg could consider bringing in a top name to handle No. 1 duties, with Hellebuyck making spot starts, getting a veteran 'keeper to share the crease may be more realistic.

Could the Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury be a reasonable target? If Pittsburgh is prepared to move on from Fleury and grant its top job to Matt Murray, he could be an option for the Jets. Fleury is signed for just two more seasons, which should be the ideal time frame for Hellebuyck to grow into the No. 1 spot.

Resolve Jacob Trouba's long-term future

After missing a month due to a contract holdout, Trouba agreed to a modest two-year deal to stay in Winnipeg. The first season of that pact is now burned up, meaning the Jets and Trouba will soon be back to the bargaining tables.

But the issue Trouba raised hasn't changed - the blue-liner feels he cannot reach his potential as a right-shot defenseman given Winnipeg's depth on that side of the ice. Dustin Byfuglien and Myers both play right defense in Winnipeg.

Moving forward, the Jets will need a long-term commitment from Trouba, who becomes a restricted free agent after next season. If they can't reach a deal, Winnipeg will need to revisit trade possibilities for the 23-year-old.

Continue along the growth path

There's no need to rush in Winnipeg. Rather, the team should grow from within and watch as its young talent develops. Laine scored 36 goals as a freshman, and has the potential to do even more as he becomes more familiar with the league and the North American game.

Related: Matthews, Laine, Werenski named Calder Trophy finalists

Laine wasn't the only Jets skater to have a breakout season. Scheifele, 24, reached a new career high in goals and assists, as did Ehlers, while Byfuglien and captain Blake Wheeler maintained their consistency.

The Jets are likely to introduce more young talent to their offensive ranks next season, with their top pick in 2015, Kyle Connor, a prime candidate to take a regular shift. Connor scored five points in 20 games with the Jets this year.

2017-18 Outlook

Winnipeg was in the playoff mix for much of this season, falling short of the postseason cutoff by just seven points.

If the Jets have a healthy lineup, their young players take the next steps, and they add some stability between the pipes, Winnipeg could challenge for a playoff spot in 2017-18.

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)

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Poll: Which team will win Game 7 – Ducks or Oilers?

The Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons and are now a win away from advancing to the Western Conference Final.

But they'll have to go through the Anaheim Ducks to do it, a team which has proven that it doesn't go away easily. That was most evident in Game 5, when Anaheim rallied for a 4-3 double-overtime win after trailing by three goals with less than four minutes left in regulation.

Here's the tale of the tape after six games:

Team GF GA SF SA SV% PP% PK% FOW%
Ducks 19 23 242 187 .877 9.1% (2-for-22) 72% (18-for-25) 58%
Oilers 23 19 187 242 .921 28% (7-for-25) 90.9% (20-for-22) 42%

Cast your vote:

The puck drops at 10 p.m. ET.

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