Every week in the Spring is another big week in hockey. This week, we saw a bunch of jerks move on to the conference finals and a prospect finesse his way into a contract. The World Championships are also starting this week and one country is particularly stacked. I also highlight a few potential additions to the Triple Gold Club.
1. Carolina and Mr. Game 7 Move On
This year’s playoffs have been insane. If Columbus sweeping Tampa Bay out of the first round wasn’t enough, the Carolina Hurricanes, who barely snuck into the playoffs, now have a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. The ‘Canes beat the defending champion Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round and swept the New York Islanders out of the second. The Hurricanes had a good start to the season and most hockey people thought that they were ahead of schedule in their rebuild. I don’t anyone thought they were this far ahead of schedule.
Carolina certainly hasn’t shied away from the spotlight during this postseason. They have won a number of close games, most notably their victory to close out the first-round over the Capitals in overtime of Game 7. A major factor in their postseason success has been their captain, Justin Williams. Most hockey fans know Williams by his nickname, Mr. Game 7. Williams has been one of the most consistent playoff performers over the last 15 years. He has already won three Stanley Cups, helping the Hurricanes win their first one back in 2006. He was a member of both of the L.A. Kings’ Stanley Cup winning teams and won the Conn Smythe trophy in 2014.
The story has been much of the same this postseason. The 37-year-old Williams has scored six points in 11 playoff games. I’m sure we all have seen his game-winning assist in double OT to finish off the Caps in Game 7. With that assist, Williams once again proved why he is deserving of the moniker Mr. Game 7. If the Hurricanes win the Cup this year, we might have to think of new nicknames to describe his storied career. Another Conn Smythe Award might fuel the media to speculate on whether Williams deserves a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame because of his playoff prowess alone.
2. Potential Triple Gold Club Additions
Die-hard hockey fans know all about the Triple Gold Club. If you haven’t heard of it, the club is a group of recognized players that have won a Stanley Cup, World Championship Gold Medal, and an Olympic Gold Medal. There are currently 28 players that have won all three trophies and one coach. It’s a pretty elite group of players. Nine of the 20 retired players in the club are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and that doesn’t include Henrik Zetterberg who has a good shot to join them. Pavel Datsyuk was the most recent addition to the club when he captained the Olympic Athletes from Russia to a gold medal in last year’s winter Olympics.
As of Sunday evening, there are two players that have won a gold medal at the World Championships and the Olympics that could join the club with a Stanley Cup win. Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues is the first. Bouwmeester was a member of Canada’s 2003 and 2004 World Championship teams. He won an Olympic gold medal in 2014 in Sochi. Matt Duchene is the second player eligible. Duchene won gold at the World Championships much later than Bouwmeester, winning gold in 2015 and in 2016 with Canada. He was also teammates with Bouwmeester in the 2014 Olympic team that won gold.
I think the Triple Gold Club is one of the coolest aspects of international hockey. I’m definitely rooting for either of these players to win the Stanley Cup so we can add a 29th player to hockey’s most elite club.
3. Matt Duchene’s Impending Free Agency
The Columbus Blue Jackets have dominated the NHL storyline this season starting at the trade deadline. They chose to keep soon-to-be UFAs, Artemi Panarin, and Sergei Bobrovsky, instead of dealing them both. Then they chose to acquire forward, Matt Duchene, from the Senators and confirmed that they were going all in on this season. Next, they shocked the world and swept the Tampa Bay Lightning right out of the playoffs. Columbus is currently fighting for their playoff life as they trail the Bruins in the Conference Semi-Finals three games to two. If Columbus continues to win, their legend will grow. Even if they lose, the headlines won’t wane during the offseason. Matt Duchene’s impending free agency will be something to watch over the summer.
We all know about Panarin and Bobrovsky and where they stand with the Blue Jackets. Over the past year, we have heard about possible extensions, failed extensions, agent changes, and tons of trade chatter. From the outside looking in, it seems that regardless of how Columbus finishes the season, Panarin and Bobrovsky will both be playing for new teams come fall. Duchene is a different story. It took a few weeks, but Duchene has started to really gel in Columbus. In 10 playoff games, he has scored five goals and added five assists, including an OT winner against the Bruins. I would argue that each round Columbus advances in the postseason, Duchene earns another sheet ($1 million) towards his AAV in his next contract.
Duchene is in the last year of a modest five-year/$30 he signed with Colorado in 2014. He has no doubt earned a pay raise this offseason. He is coming off his best season as a pro where he set a new career high in goals with 31 and tied a career high in points with 70. Freaky-fast 28-year-olds coming off career years get fat new contracts. Especially when they have dynamite postseasons. If I were an NHL general manager, I would love to have Duchene on my team. But not for the money he will command in free agency.
Don’t me wrong, Duchene is a really solid player. But, he’s a second-tier star at best but will be paid like a first. He is a guy that is good enough to make the Canadian National Team but not good enough to play above the fourth line. I’m doubtful that he can replicate the season he just had for six or seven seasons. I think a fair deal for Duchene would be a $6.5 AAV over 5-6 years. I think he would be able to play well enough to match the production worthy of that type of contract. He will make more than that on the open market. The only question is what team will be signing his checks.
At this point, I believe regardless of what happens to Columbus, they will look to bring Duchene back long-term. There is no doubt Columbus will want to stay competitive and show their fans they are committed to putting together a contending hockey team. Bringing back Duchene for big bucks would prove that to their fans. They would probably have overpay him to do so. As Duchene continues to perform in the playoffs, his price-tag gets higher and higher.
If I were a betting man, which I try not to be, I would bet on Duchene re-signing with the Blue Jackets for a contract in the neighborhood of around seven years for $55-$60 million.
4. World Championships Set to Begin
The 2019 IIFH World Championships kick off on May 10 in Slovakia. I’m a huge fan of international hockey so I’m excited to watch. I wish the IIHF was able to schedule the tournament later in the summer because they always start in the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So, players that make a deep run in the NHL postseason aren’t represented in the World Championship. This is why it hurt so bad last year when NHL players didn’t go to the Olympics because the Olympics are (were) the only hockey tournament where all of the world’s top players are on display.
The major storyline I’ll be watching in this tournament is Team Russia. Russia’s roster is STACKED and looks far better than any other team’s on paper. Russia’s roster includes the likes of two Conn Smythe and Hart Trophy winners, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Not to mention guys like Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and half of the Tampa Bay Lightning. No other roster has even close to the amount of firepower to compete with the Russians. Canada’s third-best player behind John Tavares and Mark Stone is Sean Couturier. That should say enough about the players on Team Canada.
Team USA, on the other hand, might be a nice surprise. A lot of the players on the team most likely would have played in last year’s Olympics had they been allowed. Many consider the current crop of American players in the NHL the golden generation. Not all of the U.S.’s best players will suit up, but the roster still includes Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, and Patrick Kane. Also, both Jack and Quinn Hughes will play for Team USA and it will be the first time many fans will see them play against major competition.
5. Adam Fox Dealt to New York
In prospect news, defenseman Adam Fox was traded to the New York Rangers from the Carolina Hurricanes last week. Fox is one of the best prospects in hockey and just finished up his junior year at Harvard. Fox put up really great numbers for a defenseman, scoring nine goals, adding 39 assists, with a +23 rating. He was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft and was included in last summer’s blockbuster trade between the Flames and the Hurricanes involving Noah Hanifan, Dougie Hamilton, and Elias Lindholm.
What makes this trade unique is now that Fox has completed his junior year of school, he is free to sign an Entry Level Contract with the team that holds his draft rights, that being Carolina. Fox is a native of Long Island, NY and only wants to play for the New York Rangers. Luckily for Fox, he had a bit of leverage. Fox could either choose to sign his ELC with Carolina or he could return to school. If he choose to return to school, Carolina would lose his rights and he could sign as an Undrafted Free Agent after the completion of his senior season in school. It’s not uncommon for Harvard players to finish school as we know how valuable a degree from Harvard can be. If you remember, Ryan Donato was still attending classes at Harvard after being called up by the Bruins last year.
Fox ultimately used that leverage by telling Carolina that if he wasn’t traded, he wouldn’t sign with the team and would return to school. If that happened, the Hurricanes would lose him for nothing. That forced the Hurricanes to trade him for a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 conditional pick to the New York Rangers. Fox got what he wanted because he signed his ELC with the Rangers almost immediately.
A lot of people are going to give Fox shit for this because he is going to come off like a spoiled kid who will only go to the team of his choice. I think it’s a brilliant move. Players, especially rookies, have so little leverage and are at the mercy of their organization. It’s up to them to look out for themselves. I love that Fox finessed the Hurricanes into trading him to his hometown team. I’m sure Fox is going to love tearing up NYC and being able to eat dinner with his family on off-days. That being said, if you swing, you better not miss. If Fox’s tenure with the Rangers goes poorly, he could really regret this decision. I can’t wait to see how this trade pans out for both teams. I’m going to add this to my mythical book of trades to review five years into the future. ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.