Blake’s Takes: Canada’s B Team and Blue Jacket Extensions

I hope everyone is staying safe and social distancing. The NHL has been kind, giving me enough topics to write about. Last week was packed with hockey news with signings, interviews, and injury updates. So, sit back and relax as I cover two interesting extensions in Columbus, potential Olympic rosters, and a lot more!

1. Gallant Interviewed for the Devils’ Job

[Photo by Michael Miller]
I’m delighted to hear that insiders have reported some REAL hockey news over the past week. The New Jersey Devils interviewed ex-Las Vegas Golden Knights Head Coach, Gerard Gallant, for their head coaching vacancy. Gallant was fired by the Golden Knights earlier this season despite leading them to playoff appearances in both seasons with the expansion team, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.

The Devils started the year with John Hynes as the head coach. He was fired mid-season as the team underperformed astronomical expectations. He was replaced by Alain Nasreddine who has been the team’s interim head coach ever since. Nasreddine is still a candidate for the position as well. He has gone 19-16-8 since he has taken over.

Gallant would be a great fit in New Jersey. He was perfect for a Vegas team that was full of misfits and castoffs. They were a youthful team that played with a ton of speed. I see a lot of similarities with this Devils team. They have a few budding young stars in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes that also have speed to burn. If the Devils can make a few more roster improvements, then maybe next year will be their year. If anyone can help the Devils reach the expectations that were placed on them last summer, Gallant is the guy.

2. Blue Jackets Extend Both Netminders

Elvis Merzlikins [Photo Credit: NHL]
Since quarantine began, Blue Jackets’ general manager, Jarmo Kekalainen, has been busy. He has now successfully negotiated extensions with both of his goaltenders, Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo. Both of whom have been fantastic this year after stepping up to replace Sergei Bobrovsky who left for Florida in free agency.

First for the contracts. Merzlikins received a two-year extension worth $8 million. He’ll receive $3 million in the first year and $5 million in the second, carrying a $4 million cap hit. The 26-year old was scheduled to be a restricted free agent this summer.

Korpisalo was also scheduled to hit restricted free agency this summer. He signed a two-year extension worth $5.6 million. He’ll make $2.2 million next season and $3.4 million the year after.

The two netminders have split time this season, Korpisalo with 35 starts and Merzlikins with 31. Merzlikins warranted the better deal because of his play. He’s been one of the best goalies in the league this season. He’s 13-9-8, with a 2.35 GAA, .923 sv%, and 5 shutouts. Korpisalo has held his own though, with a 19-12-5 record, 2.60 GAA, .911 sv%, and 2 shutouts. Whatever way you slice it, it’s incredible the Blue Jackets have gotten that kind of production after letting arguably their best player in franchise history walk for nothing in free agency.

I think both of these deals are fair for both players. If they had not signed extensions, they would have to go to arbitration, and that’s a risk for every player. Merzlikins’ contract. almost mirrors the extension given to Blues’ hero Jordan Binnington last summer. Binnington also received a two-year extension worth $8.8 million at the same age.

I will say, this makes Binnington’s deal look terrible for him. Although many of the variables between Merzlikins and Binnington are identical (age, experience, etc.), Binnington’s numbers in his rookie year were noticeably better than Merzlikins’. Last year, Binnington was 24-5-1, with a 1.89 GAA, .927 sv%, and 5 shutouts. Oh, and he led his team to a freaking Stanley Cup victory. I’d think he would be worth more than Merzlikins. That being said, the two-year deal is going to work out for Binnington. He’s been lights out for St. Louis this year and he’ll definitely get a raise when he inevitably signs an extension to stay with the Blues.

Overall, Kekalainen did a great job ensuring that Columbus will be solid in net for at least the next two seasons for a very reasonable price.

3. I Might Give a Kidney to Send NHL Players to the Olympics

Go ahead and look through the names on that list again.

Now, one more time.

While, it’s no secret that the best hockey players on the planet hail from Canada, that list is a joke. If the NHL were to allow players to suit up for the 2022 Olympics, that is who could represent Team Canada. To put that in perspective, take a look at the names I put together that could make up Canada’s B team:

Forwards

Stone-Seguin-Giroux 
Konecny-Tavares-Benn
Monahan-Barzal-Schenn
Hoffman-Toews-Nugent-Hopkins
Horvat

Defensemen
Burns-Letang
Barrie-Weber
Spurgeon-Giordano
Ekblad

Goalies
Fleury
Holtby
Kuemper

I think that team could take silver. That’s fucking bananas! If the NHL doesn’t allow NHL players to go to the Olympics, we should at least get a showdown of Canada’s best players.

What would be even more of a disappointment is if the USA didn’t get to send its best players to the Olympics. Yes, I’m biased because I’m an American. But, it’s been well documented that we’re in our golden generation of hockey players. Don’t believe me? Here’s a potential roster the US could send to the Olympics in 2022.

Forwards

Kane-Matthews-Connor
Kessel-Eichel-Wheeler
DeBrincat-Gaudreau-M. Tkachuk
Oshie-Larkin-Boeser
Miller

Defensemen
Carlson-Hughes
Jones-McAvoy
Krug

Goalies
Gibson
Hellebuyck
Bishop

Could that team beat Canada’s B team? I’m not sure. But, sending those guys instead of guys on their last legs playing in Russia would make for a hell of a better tournament. I’m hoping and praying the NHL can figure their shit out and give us the Olympics we deserve.

4. Stamkos Expected Back If/When Games Return

[Photo Credit: NHL]
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos had surgery on March 2 to repair a core muscle. He was expected to miss 6-8 weeks, which means he likely would have missed the first round of the playoffs. Due to the delay forced by COVID-19, if games do resume, Stamkos will be at full health.

This is great news for Tampa Bay. Stamkos was on a tear this season before the injury. He is second on the team in goals and points (29-37-66) behind Nikita Kucherov, despite missing 13 games this season. When healthy, Stamkos is deadly.

It’s Stanley Cup or bust for Tampa this season. After a record-setting campaign last year, they were ousted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs. It was rather embarrassing for the club. After a sluggish start this year, the Lightning have been hot. They’re currently second in the Atlantic Division with 92 points.

If and when games do resume and the playoffs start, the Lightning will be at full health and will be gunning for a Stanley Cup, with Stamkos leading the way.

5. Markstrom and Canucks Pause Contract Talks

Jacob Markstrom has proven that he can be a number one goaltender in this league. This season, he’s 23-16-4, with a 2.75 GAA, .918 sv%, and 2 shutouts. After this season, the 30-year-old will become a UFA and will be due for a nice pay raise. Markstrom and the Canucks were negotiating a new contract but the two sides have paused discussions.

While Markstrom has provided stability in net, the Canucks cannot afford to be lost at the goalie position. They’re in the midst of building a Stanley Cup contender. Their forward group is deep with the likes of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and J.T. Miller. On defense, Quinn Hughes has had a breakout rookie season and could be a future superstar. If their young players continue to develop, they could be competing for a cup very soon.

While they do have Thatcher Demko under contract for next year, he has yet to prove he can be a number one goalie. It would be detrimental to Vancouver if they can’t get a deal done with Markstrom and let him walk for nothing. If they’re smart, they’ll try and sign him to a shorter, team-friendly deal to ensure they get the maximum value out of him. I know it’s easier said than done. But, they can’t risk letting Markstrom go leaving a hole in net. ■

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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