Three notable NHL restricted free agents yet to be signed

NHL training camps got underway a week ago, but not all players have shown up. There are still three notable restricted free agents who have yet to sign with their respective clubs and there’s no telling when the impasses will end. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t come to terms with winger William Nylander on a new contract and the same goes for defenceman Shea Theodore of the Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks’ winger Nick Ritchie. All three of them have played out their entry-level contracts and they aren’t eligible to qualify for salary arbitration.

The 22-year-old Nylander reportedly wants to sign a long-term deal with the Leafs for approximately $8 million per season while the club doesn’t really want to go over $6.5 million or would rather sign him to a shorter bridge contract. While the Leafs don’t have any issues staying under the salary cap in 2018/19, things will change drastically next year when core players such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Jake Gardiner will need to be re-signed or moved. And let’s mot forget Toronto signed free agent centre John Tavares this summer to a seven-year deal worth $77 million.

Of course, even if Toronto plans on trading one of their young stars they will still need to sign them first to get the return the club would be looking for. Nylander was the eighth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and has posted  48 goals and 87 assists for 135 points in 185 regular-season games up to now. This includes two consecutive 61-point seasons along with campaigns of 22 and 20 goals. He’s also chipped in with 15 power play markers and 11 game winners. But while he remains unsigned, the Leafs appear to be happy with newcomer Tyler Ennis playing on the squad’s top line with Matthews.

As for Shea Theodore, the 23-year-old blue liner was originally drafted 26th overall by the Anaheim Ducks back in 2013. He was one of the Vegas Golden Knights’ best defencemen in their inaugural season with six goals and 23 assists. He now has 114 regular-season games under his belt and has accumulated 11 goals and 34 assists for 45 points with his first two seasons coming in Anaheim. Theodore averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time in the desert last season and will be sorely missed in Vegas, especially since fellow defender Nate Schmidt is suspended for the first 20 games this season.

Out in Anaheim, 22-year-old Nick Ritchie was drafted 10th overall by the club in 2014 and has produced a total of 26 goals and 33 assists for 59 points in 186 regular-season contests. He scored 10 goals and 17 assists in 76 games last season and had 14 goals and 14 assists the year before. Ritchie hasn’t been a big point producer in Anaheim and hasn’t really had a breakout season as of yet. Therefore, the club may not be in any rush to ink him to a new deal. Still, he’s not going to take a step forward as an NHL’er if the Ducks don’t re-sign him.

In the meantime, Nylander, Theodore and Ritchie need to stay in shape while the rest of their teammates play preseason games and continue their training camps. Nobody wants to miss any of the actual season, but so far neither the players’ agents or their clubs have budged when it comes to new contracts.

Plenty of off-ice action during NHL pre-season

There was enough off-ice action during the past week to keep headline writers busy before the NHL’s preseason officially faced off with games between the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames in China. The most intriguing stories involved the trading of two team captains, the resignation of one of the league’s best young general managers and the retirement of a well-respected veteran.

Both the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators sent their captains packing as Habs’ forward Max Pacioretty was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights and the Senators shipped blue liner Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks. The 29-year-old Pacioretty was traded to Vegas in return for 27-year-old forward Tomas Tatar as well as 19-year-old forward prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round draft pick in 2019. Pacioretty was entering the last season of a six-year contract with Montreal that was worth $4.5 million a campaign.

When arriving in Las Vegas, the Golden Knights promptly signed Pacioretty to a four-year extension worth $7 million a season. Pacioretty was originally drafted 22nd overall by Montreal in 2007. He appeared in 626 regular-season games and notched 226 goals and 222 assists for 448 points, including 17 goals and 20 assists last season. He also added 10 goals and nine assists in 38 playoff outings. Tatar was drafted 60th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 2009 and was acquired by Vegas at last season’s trade deadline.

He scored 20 goals and 14 assists last year, but managed just four goals and two assists in 20 games with Vegas. Tatar was also a minus-11 and and appeared in only eight playoff games in the Golden Knights’ run to the Stanley Cup Final with a goal and assist to his name. He’s an accomplished scorer though with four straight 20-goal seasons under his belt while scoring 19 in his other full year. Tatar’s totals read 119 goals and 109 assists for 228 points in 427 games with four goals and five assists in 25 postseason outings.

As for the Senators, the dealt all-star defenceman Karlsson and prospect Francis Perron for defenceman Dylan DeMelo and forward Chris Tierney from San Jose along with and forward prospects Rudolfs Balcers and Josh Norris. They also acquired a first-round draft pick in 2019 or 2020 and a second-round draft pick in 2019. If San Jose misses the playoffs this season then the first-round pick will be in 2019. If they make the playoffs the pick will be in 2020. The deal also involves conditional draft picks which involve the Sharks re-signing Karlsson and reaching this season’s Stanley Cup Final.

The 28-year-old Karlsson was originally drafted 15th overall by Ottawa in 2008. He won a pair of Norris Trophies as the NHL’s top defenceman and was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Karlsson chipped in with nine goals and 53 assists last season for 62 points in 71 games and had 126 goals and 518 points in 627 regular-season games in Ottawa and added six goals and 31 assists in 48 playoff games. The 24-year-old Tierney scored 17 goals and 23 assists for 40 points last season and has 41 goals, 63 assists and 104 points in his 284 regular-season games after being drafted 55th overall by the Sharks in 2012.

The 25-year-old DeMelo played 63 games with San Jose last year and notched 20 assists. Norris was drafted 19th overall by San Jose in 2017 while the 21-year-old Balcers taken with the 142nd pick in 2015. He scored 23 goals and 25 assists last season for the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL to lead the team in goals and points as a rookie. It’s hard to tell how the prospects and draft picks will turn out for Senators, but the Sharks added a future hall of fame defenceman to their roster and now have two of the best blue liners in the league in Karlsson and Brent Burns.

In a bit of a surprise move, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman resigned from his position. He’ll now see out the last year of of his contract as a senior adviser with the club while former assistant GM Julien Brisebois takes over Yzerman’s job. Yzerman, a hall of fame player with the Detroit Red Wings, joined Tampa Bay in 2010 as the franchises GM and vice president. The former centre was named the NHL general manager of the year for 2014/15 when he lead his team to the Stanley Cup Final, only to be ousted by the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s unclear if the 53-year-old will remain with Tampa after this season, but it’s believed he wants to spend more time with his family.

In other news, Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who was drafted 210th overall by the club in 1999, announced his retirement due to a back injury. The 37-year-old Swedish forward came in second in team scoring last season with 11 goals and 45 assists for 56 points. He appeared in 1,082 regular-season games and racked up 960 points on 337 goals and 623 assists. He also played in 137 playoff contests and added another 57 goals and 63 helpers for 120 points. Zetterberg led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2007/08 and was rewarded for his excellent performance by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason.

James van Riemsdyk’s return to the Philadelphia Flyers boosts their playoff chances

The biggest NHL free agent signing this summer was centre John Tavares heading to the Toronto Maple Leafs for seven years at $77 million, but fans shouldn’t overlook James van Riemsdyk’s return to the Philadelphia Flyers. The 29-year-old winger began his career in the City of Brotherly Love after being drafted by the Flyers with the second overall pick in 2007. He played three seasons with the club before being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he’s back where it all began now after inking a five year contract for $35 million.

The native of nearby Middletown, New Jersey, racked up 99 points in 196 games for the Flyers with 47 goals and 52 assists between 2009 and 2012 before heading to Toronto for defenceman Luke Schenn. It turned out to be one of the Leafs’ best ever trades as JVR contributed 154 goals and 140 assists for 294 points in 413 games in Toronto, including a team and career-high 36 goals and 18 assists in 81 outings last season. His career totals now read 393 points in 609 regular-season contests on 201 goals and 192 assists with 18 goals and 11 assists in 59 playoff games.

He will definitely boost Philadelphia’s chances at challenging for a Stanley Cup as he joins a lineup which contains fellow forwards Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Jakub Voracek and Travis Konecny. And let’s not forget the team went 42-26-14 last year for 98 points and finished third in the Metropolitan Division. However, their lack of scoring depth hurt them in the playoffs as they were ousted in six games by the Pittsburgh Penguins and were outscored 28-15.

JVR is one of the finest scorers in the league around the crease area as he has a knack for finding the roof of the net from close quarters. He ranked 23rd in the NHL in shots on net in 2017/18 with 248 and owned a shooting percentage of 14.5. He netted 25 even-strength goals last year and added 11 on the power play. The Flyers will definitely be a stronger team with Van Riemsdyk skating on the wing and he’s the third-highest player on the squad behind Giroux and Voracek.

Critics note Van Riemsdyk will be 34 years old by the time his new contract runs out, but he’s been improving each year. His goals-per-game ratio increased in each of the last four campaigns from 0.33 to 0.35 to 0.353 to 0.44. Van Riemsdyk played with Voracek, Giroux, Simmonds and Couturier during his first stint in Philadelphia so should be comfortable on his return. There’s a good chance he will skate on the left wing with centre Nolan Patrick though. Patrick was the second overall pick in the 2017 draft and notched 13 goals and 17 assists last year in 73 games as a rookie.

Voracek will likely play on the right wing with Patrick and Van Riemsdyk on the second line while Couturier, Giroux and Konecny will make up the first line. If there is a weak spot on the Flyers’ roster it will likely come in net where Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth will share the goaltending duties. Elliot posted a goals-against average of 2.66 last year along with a 90.9 save percentage, but underwent abdominal surgery in February and a minor hip operation during the offseason. Neuvirth posted a 2.60 goals-against average and a 91.5 save percentage, but has so far been injury prone in his NHL career.

There will be high expectations on JVR’s shoulders this season considering how well he played in Toronto. He’ll be expected to score consistently in five-on-five and power play situations. At 6-foot-three and 217 Lbs, he’s a force to be dealt with in front of the net and it will be interesting to see if he can match last season’s scoring totals. Much has been made of Tavares joining Toronto, but Leafs’ fans need to realize they lost Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak in the offseason and those moves may balance each other out. They certainly would have loved to see JVR skating on Tavares’ wing, but in the salary-cap era it means Toronto lost last year’s top goalscorer for nothing.

Las Vegas Golden Knights’ Nate Schmidt dealt 20-game suspension

Some of the lustre has been taken off the Vegas Golden Knights’ successful inaugural NHL season as defenceman Nate Schmidt has been banned for the first 20 games of the upcoming 2018/19 campaign. The 27-year-old found out the news on September 2nd when the league announced he had failed a drug test and violated the current NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. However, Schmidt doesn’t appear to be very happy with the news and stressed to the media that he isn’t a cheater.

The blue-liner released a statement which said he’s very disappointed with the ban. He stated that he’s been tested several times during his career and twice in the 2017/18 season and this is the first time he’s failed. Schmidt said he was shocked to hear of the result, but said only a microscopic amount of the unnamed banned substance was found in his system. He added that the small amount of the substance found in his body could have no way enhanced his performance on the ice.

Schmidt went on to say he didn’t intentionally place anything in his body and this should be taken into consideration due to the minuscule amount of the substance that showed up on the test. The defenceman remarked that just seven billionths of a milligram of the substance was found in his system and that could be compared to a grain of sand on Miami Beach. However, since the NHL’s policy states that any amount of a performance-enhancing drug in a player’s bloodstream is against the rules he was handed the suspension.

Most NHL players have abided by the program as Schmidt is just the first player to be suspended for testing positive since the 2015/16 season. The last players to be banned were Shawn Horcoff of the Anaheim Ducks and Jarred Tinordi of the Arizona Coyotes when they were both nailed with 20-game bans. Also, two former Toronto Marlies players, Carter Ashton and Brad Ross, were suspended for 20 games by the American Hockey League a year earlier.

Schmidt, who scored a career-high five goals and 31 assists for 36 points last season, said he supports the NHL’s drug program, but still doesn’t agree with the ruling as he never knowingly or intentionally tried to gain an advantage. Predictably, the Golden Knights support Schmidt’s position and also released a statement which said he’s honest and possesses great integrity and moral character. The club said Schmidt may have failed his test, but he knew nothing about the substance found in his system.

No matter how the drug entered his system though, the fact is it was found in his bloodstream and the league had no choice but to suspend him. Schmidt will be allowed to attend the Golden Knights’ training camp in September, but won’t be able to participate in any preseason games. His absence will definitely be felt by the team as Schmidt was the second highest-scoring blue-liner on the squad last season and was generally considered the team’s number-one defenceman. He led the team in minutes per game at 22:14 and was a key part of the penalty-killing and power play units.

He also led the club in ice time during the playoffs and scored three goals and four assists in 20 postseason outings to lead Vegas to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they fell in five games to the Washington Capitals. Schmidt, who’s entering the final season of a two-year contract, will have to forfeit his pay during the suspension and since he’s making $2.3 million in 2018/19 it’s estimated it will cost him approximately $450,000. Schmidt will be eligible return to the Golden Knights’ lineup on November 18th when the team plays in Edmonton against the Oilers.