Blake’s Takes: Low Risk, High Reward

The past week in the NHL was relatively quiet, but there were a few stories that provided a bit of excitement. This week, I’ll examine one of the biggest extensions in league history for a goalie and multiple low risk, high reward signings that could impact the playoff race. I’ll also preview two more teams for the upcoming season.

1. Vasilevskiy Gets Paid

[Photo Credit: NHL]
Last week, Tampa Bay Lightning superstar goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy signed a lucrative eight-year $76 million extension with the club. Vasilevskiy will see his AAV rise from a pedestrian $3.5 million to a $9.5 million. When the deal kicks in after this upcoming season, Vasilevskiy will boast the third-highest AAV for a goalie, behind Carey Price of the Canadiens and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Panthers who have a $10.5 million and $10 million AAV respectively. However, Vasilevskiy’s total money is the second largest contractor for a goalie, behind Price who signed an eight-year deal worth a total of $84 million.

Like all of the HUGE extensions the Lightning have given out over the last few years, Vasilevskiy is very deserving. He is only 25 years old and just won his first Vezina Trophy. He has also led the league in wins in back-to-back seasons and owns 2.55 career GAA and a career sv% of .919. The numbers speak for themselves. Tampa Bay looks to have done what every team aims to do in the salary cap era, extend their window to compete. Yes, Tampa Bay does owe quite a bit of money to their top stars over the next half-decade. They currently have seven players signed through the 2023-24 seasons for a total AAV of $52.29 million. That’s a staggering number. And it doesn’t include breakout star Brayden Point, who could be added to that list very soon. This list includes: Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Vasilevskiy. Those seven guys are all younger than 31-years-old and all, except for maybe McDonagh, have shown no signs of slowing down. This is a good deal for Vasilevskiy and the Lightning. If Tampa can finally get over the hump, look for them to become the NHL’s next salary cap dynasty.

2. Season Preview: Ottawa Senators

There isn’t much I could write about the Senators that most people don’t already know. They’re not going to be very good, and I could probably end this preview by saying that. Luckily for them, they are one season removed from having a ton of cap space and financial flexibility. They also have a few promising prospects that could make an impact this season. So, there is hope for this struggling franchise.

If there is one benefit from being a bottom feeder in the NHL, it’s that you can become a prime salary dump destination. The Senators have done a bit of that this offseason and can do a lot of it next offseason. They have $15 million in cap space so they shouldn’t have any issue taking on a big contract or two if needed. They have even more money coming off the books next summer. Nine players on their roster will become UFAs next summer and another six will become RFAs. Those 15 players will open approximately $52 million in cap space. Not only does that allow Ottawa to overpay for UFAs, but they can also absorb a bad multi-year contract in exchange for assets. That’s a huge luxury. It’s too bad they already signed Bobby Ryan to his abysmal contract and can’t get anything for him. On the bright side, they’re not good enough to where it’s hurting them on the ice.

Speaking of what happens on the ice, there are a few guys who are worth watching skate in Ottawa. The first is sophomore forward, Brady Tkachuk. The son of Keith “Big Walt” Tkachuk and brother to Matthew, Brady has the same scoring prowess as his family. In his rookie season, Tkachuk scored 22 goals and added 23 assists in 71 games. Those are some pretty good numbers for a rookie. There is no reason to believe Tkachuk won’t continue to progress and could be the cornerstone of the Sens rebuild.

Perhaps the most promising player on the Senators is a 22-year-old defenseman, Thomas Chabot. Chabot broke out in this second-full season and finished third in team scoring with 55 points. Chabot also nabbed his first All-Star nod and was one of the lone bright spots during the Senators train wreck of a season. Chabot’s development could be the key factor in the direction of the Senators franchise in the next few seasons. The Senators will be awful this year and will contend to draft first-overall in the 2020. Thankfully for them, this season doesn’t matter in the standings, it matters in the development of Chabot and Tkachuk.

3. Gusev On the Move Again

Nikita Gusev (right) in a KHL game against Pavel Datsyuk [Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]
One of the most fascinating players in the NHL has just been traded again. Nikita Gusev was dealt by the Los Vegas Golden Knights to the New Jersey Devils for 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick. Gusev remains one of the most interesting players in the NHL and he has never played an NHL game. The 27-year-old was the 2017-18 KHL MVP and won a slew of honors at the 2018 Olympics as he led the Olympic Athletes from Russia to a Gold Medal while leading the tournament in points.

Earlier this year, the Knights traded for the rights to Gusev and signed him to an Entry-Level Contract right away. He never cracked the roster for the Knights during the playoffs and finished the year without playing in a single game. The Devils must believe he can contribute right away as they traded for him and signed him immediately to a two-year $9 million deal.

I love this deal by the Devils who have been swinging for the fences all offseason. Gusev is the definition of a boom-or-bust prospect. If he booms, this could be remembered as one of the biggest steals in league history. I don’t think anyone around the league would be surprised if he was one of the best forwards on the Devils this year. I think the same people wouldn’t be surprised if he struggled to crack the lineup. There is so much uncertainty with Gusev that keeps everyone on their toes. I think Gusev will prove that he belongs in the NHL, but he won’t be anything special. I could see him topping out at around 60 points but never making an All-Star team. Still, this is a low risk, high reward play for New Jersey and I love it.

4. Season Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks fans have gone through quite the series of emotions over the last few seasons. In 2015, they lifted the Stanley Cup as the best team in the world. In 2017, they were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Nashville Predators. By the end of the 2018 season, the vision of a Blackhawks dynasty was only a memory. Captain Jonathan Toews seemed to be on the decline and Brent Seabrook’s albatross of a contract was getting worse by the day. It didn’t help that they fired surefire Hall of Fame Coach, Joel Quenneville, and traded away future superstar Artemi Panarin in that span.

In the middle of 2019, things are looking up for the former champs. Patrick Kane has continued to get better and is coming off a 110-point season. Toews has turned it around and finished the season with a career-high 81 points. But it’s the infusion of youth that has changed the direction of this franchise. The pride of Farmington Hills, MI, Alex DeBrincat was the first piece. The 5’7” winger came out of nowhere and scored 28 goals during his rookie campaign and followed that up with a 41-goal season last year. DeBrincat proved everyone wrong that size matters and became one of the Hawks most important players.

Trading for Dylan Strome was a huge addition for the Blackhawks. The Hawks acquired the 2015 3rd-overall pick from Arizona in the middle of last season. Strome was struggling to contribute in the desert, having scored 16 points in 48 career games. The move to the Midwest completely changed his fortune as he scored 58 points in 51 games in Chicago. The resurgence of youth has helped the Hawks extend their title window and the primes of their two superstars.

The blue line is what really hurts Chicago financially. 34-year-old Seabrook and 36-year-old Duncan Keith are still owed a combined $12.41 million cap hit for another four years. Keith is still good enough to contribute, but the Hawks must think of a plan quickly as Keith is signed through the 2022-23 season and Seabrook through the year after.

The Blackhawks may have another year or two to try and compete again before the contracts of Seabrook and Keith become the worst in the league, if they aren’t already. If Chicago’s young guns like Strome and DeBrincat can take another leap, the Blackhawks could have the deadliest offense in the NHL. But their title hopes rest on the depth of their defense corps which will be patched up with duct tape and super glue. Unfortunately, they play in the hardest division in the league that boasts the likes of the Predators, Jets, Stars, Avalanche, and defending champion Blues. I could see the Hawks finishing second in the division or second-to-last. It’s a free for all in the Central and I can’t see Chicago coming out on top.

5. Shattenkirk Finds a Home

For those who thought the Lightning wouldn’t be able to add any more talent to an already stacked roster, you were wrong. On Monday, it was announced that 30-year-old defenseman, Kevin Shattenkirk, would join the Lightning on a one-year deal worth $1.75 million. Shattenkirk didn’t live up to the four-year $26.6 million deal he signed with his hometown Rangers. He scored 7 goals and posted 51 points in 119 games with the club after battling various injuries.

This is still a great deal for the Lightning. Even if Shattenkirk is a shell of his former self, if he can stay healthy, there is no way he’s not worthy of $1.75 million to shore up the back end. There is also tremendous upside because if Shattenkirk can find his game again, he is surely worth more than that. The Lighting hit the nail on the head again searching through the bargain bin. This is a great deal for Shattenkirk too. Regardless of how he plays, he is going to compete for a Stanley Cup. So even if he can’t find his form, he could come away with a Stanley Cup ring. He will also have a ton of help all over the ice. His stats should improve as he should be able to pick up secondary assists with his eyes closed. If that can’t help him earn another solid contract, the increased exposure if playing for the league’s best team through the regular season and playoffs should help, too. This is a great deal for everyone involved except the 30 other NHL teams. ■

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.

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