All posts by Sean O'Leary

Aho: ‘I’m happy with my situation’ after offer sheet played out

Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho has no regrets about his offer sheet saga with the Montreal Canadiens.

"It's done and that's the best part because now I don't have to think about it for the next five years," Aho told NHL.com's Dan Rosen. "Last year was awesome in Carolina with great teammates, a great coach. I love it in Carolina."

The Habs tendered the 22-year-old a five-year, $42.27-million offer sheet on July 1. He signed it, forcing the Hurricanes to decide whether to match the deal.

The decision was a no-brainer for Carolina's brass, but speculation about Aho's intentions and whether the 'Canes could afford to retain him ran rampant.

"It wasn't an easy decision, but at the same time I had literally like a day or less, actually, to think about it," Aho said. "It felt right. Now I'm thinking about it, I'm happy with my situation. It worked out. It really did.

"I did sign an offer sheet with Montreal and I'm thankful for them to offer me that contract, but I'm happy to be in Carolina."

The Hurricanes announced their intention to match the offer sheet on July 2, and the team officially did so on July 7. Owner Tom Dundon said the process was a "waste of time."

Aho recorded a tremendous third NHL season in 2018-19, leading the Hurricanes with 83 points in 82 games before pacing the club in playoff scoring too, notching 12 points in 15 postseason contests.

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Hedman feeling 100 percent after injury struggles last season

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman is feeling fully healthy ahead of his team's training camp after injuries derailed the conclusion of his 2018-19 campaign.

"If I wasn't 100 percent, I wouldn't be here right now, I'd be in Tampa," Hedman said, according to NHL.com's David Satriano from the European Player Media Tour in Sweden. "I'm excited and ready to go."

Hedman missed 12 regular-season games and two playoff contests due to a couple of upper-body injuries last season. He suffered the first ailment late in the campaign after colliding awkwardly with Carl Hagelin of the Washington Capitals before sustaining a separate injury in the first round of the playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"Body is great," Hedman said. "I've been able to do what I want to do this summer. I'm fortunate enough to skate with my hometown team Modo (in Sweden) and they've taken good care of me ever since I went over to Tampa. My offseason has been great and looking forward to the last few weeks before I head over to Tampa for the final touches."

Injuries aside, Hedman had another fantastic showing last season. The 28-year-old produced 54 points in 70 games, was a Norris Trophy finalist, and was named to the NHL's second All-Star team.

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Leafs’ Nylander: ‘I look forward to dominating’ after down season

William Nylander has turned the page after his tumultuous 2018-19 campaign.

"Last year's gone," Nylander told Sportsnet's Chris Johnston on Thursday. "Out of the books, really, except for maybe taking some stuff that I learned. I look forward to dominating.

"I'm confident in how I am as a player, so I'm not too worried about it."

The Toronto Maple Leafs winger never got on track last season after his contract dispute lingered all the way to the Dec. 1 deadline and culminated in a six-year, $45-million contract. After finally returning to the lineup, his production failed to meet the standard he set during his first two full campaigns.

Nylander finished the regular season with just 27 points in 54 games before adding a goal and two assists in Toronto's first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins. The 23-year-old, despite impressive underlying numbers, was saddled by an abnormally low shooting percentage of 5.4 during the regular season and had to shift to third-line center in the postseason due to Nazem Kadri's suspension.

While his NHL numbers underwhelmed, Nylander had a terrific World Championship for his native Sweden in May, posting a tournament-best 18 points through eight games in Slovakia.

"I look back at that season and there were little ups and downs," Nylander said. "There were games where I would play well and nothing would happen and that's just how the game goes. Learning through that time period has helped and given me experience and stuff to use for whenever that happens again.

"Now I'm ready to dominate this year."

With training camp set to open Sept. 13, the Maple Leafs are once again burdened by contract negotiations as restricted free agent Mitch Marner remains unsigned.

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Ranking the NHL’s top 5 defensive pairings

After analyzing the NHL's best forward lines, our focus now shifts to the league's top defensive pairings.

These pairings are weighed against each other through a series of advanced statistical categories that quantify their on-ice impact at even strength. Of course, individual stats can't paint the entire picture, and players can have their numbers dragged down or enhanced by plenty of factors, including goaltending and quality of competition.

With so many candidates to choose from, we whittled our list down to five pairings that play top-line minutes.

All stats are at five-on-five for the 2018-19 regular season, minimum 500 minutes played. League ranking is in parentheses.

5. Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis

John Russell / National Hockey League / Getty
Time on Ice Corsi For % Goals For % Expected Goals For %
1223.6 (2nd) 51.38% (22nd) 55.21% (17th) 51.53% (28th)

The Predators have been taking a defense-first approach for years, and these two currently lead the way. Both Josi and Ellis ranked inside the top 20 in individual ice time per game last season, and together, they were the second-most utilized pairing in the NHL.

Both players chip in significantly on offense, and Nashville's 53 goals scored with Josi and Ellis on the ice at five-on-five was good for fifth among all defensive duos. That's even more impressive when considering the Preds finished 19th in the NHL in overall goals for in 2018-19.

Josi and Ellis also managed to have a positive penalty differential, which is key for any successful top pairing, and they finished sixth in combined takeaways with 161.

4. Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon

Bruce Kluckhohn / National Hockey League / Getty
TOI CF% GF% xGF%
1066.92 (4th) 52.13% (17th) 50% (31st) 57.27% (4th)

Suter is one of the most renowned defenseman of his era, while Spurgeon is a lesser-known talent in the NHL. Together, they dominate opposing forward lines. The Wild duo eats a ton of minutes, and Suter's size and poise mesh tremendously with Spurgeon's skating and puck-moving abilities.

The Wild struggled to score goals last season, but with Suter and Spurgeon on the ice, Minnesota owned the majority of the shot share, and the pair's expected goal rate was among the league's best.

Suter led all NHL defenders in 2018-19 with 26:46 of ice time per game, while Spurgeon himself ranked 17th (24:09). This D-pair is about as reliable as they come.

3. Kris Letang-Brian Dumoulin

Joe Sargent / National Hockey League / Getty
TOI CF% GF% xGF%
901.08 (13th) 54.45% (9th) 63.22% (4th) 55.42% (6th)

Letang has never really been classified as a prototypical shutdown defenseman, but constantly having the puck is a pretty solid method to keeping opponents at bay.

With him and Dumoulin deployed, the ice significantly tilts in the Penguins' favor, which is a gigantic advantage for Pittsburgh, considering the quality of offensive weapons on its roster. Letang and Dumoulin do give up a fair amount of shots against, but the reward highly outweighs the risk.

Among all D-pairings that played over 500 minutes last season, Letang and Dumoulin owned the highest Relative Corsi For rating at 7.55 percent. For a team as thin on the blue line as the Pens, this dynamic duo is absolutely imperative to success.

2. Jaccob Slavin-Dougie Hamilton

Gregg Forwerck / National Hockey League / Getty
TOI CF% GF% xGF%
950.3 (11th) 57.36% (3rd) 50.7% (27th) 58.25% (2nd)

Hamilton's first year with the Hurricanes was a smashing success, as he and Slavin became one of the most formidable pairings in the NHL.

Carolina's entire roster had sterling advanced numbers, and this duo is no exception. The pair's goals-for percentage took a hit as the Canes' goaltenders struggled early in the season, but elsewhere, Hamilton and Slavin are among the league leaders across the board.

Hamilton registers plenty of shots on goal, while Slavin quietly contributes points and plays an effective shutdown style in his own zone. Both players have tremendous sticks, too, as they led the pack with 193 takeaways last season.

1. Mark Giordano-TJ Brodie

Terence Leung / National Hockey League / Getty
TOI CF% GF% xGF%
1060.83 (6th) 57.68% (2nd) 58.89% (7th) 53.95% (15th)

The reigning Norris Trophy winner and his partner take the top spot.

Giordano and Brodie's numbers together last season were outstanding, and the two were essential in leading the Flames to the Pacific Division title. The pair dominated both the shot share and goal share, contributing heavily to Calgary's potent offense.

In his hardware-worthy season, Giordano ranked second with 74 points in 78 games. Brodie's numbers (nine goals, 25 assists) aren't quite as gaudy, but his puck-moving skills are key to Calgary's breakout and in the attacking zone.

As it stands right now, this pair is the best around.

Honorable mentions (lack of TOI):

Erik Karlsson-Brenden Dillon
514.88 (51st), 61.35% (1st), 63.64% (3rd) (35-20), 62.59% (1st)

Charlie McAvoy-Zdeno Chara
587.22 (38th), 54.67% (7th), 54.49% (19th) (31-26), 54.09% (12th)

(Analytics courtesy: Corsica)

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Lightning deal Erne to Red Wings for 4th-round pick

The Tampa Bay Lightning traded forward Adam Erne to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a 2020 fourth-round pick, the teams announced Wednesday.

Erne is a restricted free agent, meaning the Red Wings still need to sign the 24-year-old after adding him to their roster. With Erne off the Lightning's books, the only player left for them to sign is superstar Brayden Point.

Erne appeared in a career-high 65 games for the Bolts last season, registering seven goals and 13 assists in a bottom-six role.

Tampa Bay now has nine picks in seven rounds for the 2020 draft.

The deal marks Steve Yzerman's first player trade as general manager of the Red Wings. Coincidentally, it came together with the team he managed from 2010-18.

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Swedish women’s team boycotting upcoming tournament over lack of compensation

Forty-three members of Sweden's women's national hockey team announced they're boycotting training camp and the upcoming Five Nations tournament due to a lack of financial compensation from the Swedish Ice Hockey Association.

Several players took to social media to release the coordinated statement Wednesday. The posts were accompanied by the hashtag #FörFramtiden, which translates to "for the future."

"It cuts into our hearts that one of the first reactions for us who are awarded the honor of representing our country ... is how much minus we will go economically by accepting ..." part of the statement reads, via Google translate.

The Swedish women's team's stand is similar to the U.S. women's national team's threatened boycott ahead of the 2017 IIHF world championships over demands for fair treatment and pay.

After Sweden's sixth-place finish at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, the Swedish Olympic Committee announced they'd no longer financially support the women's national team.

The Five Nations tournament runs Aug. 20-25 in Finland, while Sweden's training camp was supposed to open Aug. 15.

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Flames’ Valimaki out indefinitely with torn ACL

Calgary Flames defenseman Juuso Valimaki will require surgery after tearing his ACL during offseason training and is out indefinitely, general manager Brad Treliving announced Monday.

"It's terrible news," Treliving said. "It's terrible news for Juuso, and certainly, unfortunate news for our club.

"He's a really good young player who we expected to take a big step and move forward this year. It's tough. I feel horrible for him. He's had a terrific summer in terms of preparing. He was really taking some big steps forward and was excited about making an impact on our team this year."

The Flames drafted Valimaki 16th overall in 2017 and he made his NHL debut last season. The 20-year-old went on to appear in 24 regular-season games, posting three points while averaging 15:23 of ice time per contest.

Valimaki also registered 14 points in 20 AHL games with the Stockton Heat during 2018-19.

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Hurricanes agree to multi-year extension with GM Don Waddell

The Carolina Hurricanes have signed team president and general manager Don Waddell to a multi-year contract extension, the team announced Monday.

"Don's leadership and experience are invaluable to our organization and I'm happy we were able to reach an extension," owner Tom Dundon said. "Don and I have a great relationship and he is someone I trust. I'm excited to continue to build a championship team with Don."

Waddell joined the Hurricanes in 2014 and was named the team's general manager in 2018. Carolina snapped a 10-year playoff drought and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final in Waddell's first season as the GM. He was named one of the finalists for GM of the Year.

Drama intensified surrounding Waddell's place with the Hurricanes after he interviewed with the Minnesota Wild for their GM vacancy last week. He'd previously said in May that he'd be back with Carolina despite being without a contract.

Before his Hurricanes tenure, Waddell served as the general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers from 1998-2010 and as an assistant GM with the Detroit Red Wings during the 1997-98 season.

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