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Peter’s Picture: The NHL Landscape Vol. 7

The Daily’s Peter Knowles gives a professional hockey update.

By

It’s time to recap what went on in the NHL this week — including a big week for the New York Islanders, a coaching change in Calgary and the best contracts in the NHL.

Big week for the Islanders… 

The New York Islanders sit atop the East division standings on Monday and are sporting a five-game winning streak. After a 3-4-2 record in the month of January, the Isles have gone 12-2-2 in their last 16 games and are beginning to look like the formidable squad that made a deep playoff run last year.

Goaltender Semyon Varlamov is playing well between the pipes, and the team is led up front by young speedster Mat Barzal, who had an unreal between the legs goal against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. In their five-game winning streak, the Isles have outscored their opposition 19-7, improving their division-best goal differential to +17 on the season. Goal differential is a good way to tell the contenders from the pretenders, and the Isles pass this test with flying colors.

While their schedule has been favorable in recent weeks, mostly playing the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils, the Islanders are getting the job done, and that’s all that matters. March will be tougher, including a five-game road trip to end the month, with stops in Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh.

Coaching change in Calgary…

Last Thursday, the Calgary Flames ended their relationship with head coach Geoff Ward, firing him and immediately naming Darryl Sutter as his replacement.

The firing of Ward comes after an up-and-down start for the Flames, who made significant improvements to their already-solid roster in the offseason, adding elite goaltender Jacob Markstrom and veteran blueliner Chris Tanev in free agency. At the time of the firing, the Flames were 11-11-2, and have since lost both of their games, one in regulation and one in a shootout, making their record 11-12-3.

The coaching change speaks to this season’s expectations for the Flames, who have the offensive firepower and defensive talent to make a run at the Stanley Cup, but so often fail to do anything in the playoffs. Many believed the Flames would make major roster changes after yet another disappointing playoff exit last year. During the offseason, the Flames were rumored to be shopping star forward Johnny Gaudreau, but in the end the Flames decided to bolster their roster in free agency and keep the same core of talent.

Under new coach Darryl Sutter, the Flames look to end an era of disappointment. They are fifth place in a division that will admit four clubs to the playoffs, making the season far from over for them. With that said, I don’t see any narrative changes on the horizon. 

While Sutter was able to inspire the Los Angeles Kings to Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014, the makeup of the Flames is hardly comparable, save for solid goaltending. The Kings played and succeeded with a rough and tough identity, as the playoffs usually reward. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have yet to prove themselves as playoff performers, something that was exposed last year against the Dallas Stars in the first round. 

If they are able to accomplish anything this season, it will have much to do with the stellar play of Jacob Markstrom, but even with his heroics, I don’t see this team doing much.

The best contracts in the NHL… 

To follow up the coverage of the worst contracts last week, I have put together a list of the NHL’s best contracts. Similar to last week, the decisions come down to which contracts are the best value as of today.

A team cannot win the Stanley Cup without players performing above their pay grade, which is why it is so important to have good contracts. Don’t feel too bad though, as the players who are on this list today often end up overpaid and featured on the worst contract list tomorrow.

If you want a real head-scratcher, compare last week’s list to this week’s. You’ll see some of the best players in the game making less than players who don’t even play at all.

*Cap hit is the average annual value of a contract and the amount that counts toward the salary cap each year.

Honorable mentions: 

John Gibson — Goaltender for the Anaheim Ducks, who is an elite player and locked up until 2027 with a cap hit of $6.4 million.

Rookie Deals — Andrei Svechnikov, forward for the Carolina Hurricanes, Cale Makar, defenseman for the Colorado Avalanche and Quinn Hughes, defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks, are all on rookie contracts, meaning they have cap hits of less than a million dollars. All three will likely strike a deal around $9 million per season after their rookie deal expires.

5. Miro Heiskanen — The Dallas Stars defenseman makes the list ahead of the other rookie contracts because his contract is more valuable to his team. Not to mention he is, in my opinion, the best of the batch. He remains on his rookie contract through the end of this season, which carries a miniscule cap hit of $894,166. Heiskanen’s growth on his rookie deal is a primary reason the Stars were able to find success in the playoffs last year. Although the team is overpaying players like forwards Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski, this deal allows them to get away with it — at least until the end of this season. Heiskanen’s emergence as one of the NHL’s best defensemen will likely put him in the range of a $10 million cap hit for the next decade and spell trouble for the Stars, who will have to make some tough decisions.

4. Brayden Point — Forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who has a cap hit of $6.75 million until the end of next season and proved his worth after helping the Lightning win the Stanley Cup last year. He will likely earn north of $9 million per season after that.

3. Aleksander Barkov — The Florida Panthers captain has a cap hit of $5.9 million through 2022, which is a steal for a center of his caliber. The Panthers also have star forward Jonathan Huberdeau on a similar contract through the end of 2023, which gives this team a great chance to succeed right now despite the horrid Sergei Bobrovsky contract.

2. David Pastrnak — The Boston Bruins winger is one of the best goalscorers in the league today, and a primary reason the Bruins will continue to have success. He has a cap hit of $6.66 million through the end of 2023, making him criminally underpaid.

1. Nathan MacKinnon — The Colorado Avalanche center is a top-three player in the entire league and carries just a $6.3 million cap hit through 2023. You won’t find a better deal than this. Whoever signed him to this deal should be on the most wanted list. It’s just unfair, and a big reason why the Avalanche will be Stanley Cup contenders for years to come.

Peter’s Power Rankings: The Top 10 Teams Right Now.

Last week’s ranking in parentheses.

  1. Vegas Golden Knights (3)
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning (1)
  3. Carolina Hurricanes (4)
  4. Toronto Maple Leafs (2)
  5. New York Islanders (Not ranked)
  6. Washington Capitals (Not ranked)
  7. Winnipeg Jets (7)
  8. Colorado Avalanche (6)
  9. Florida Panthers (8)
  10. Minnesota Wild (5)

What to watch this week…

Boston Bruins at New York Islanders: Tuesday, March 9 at 4 p.m. PT.

Winnipeg Jets at Toronto Maple Leafs: Saturday, March 13 at 7 p.m. PT.

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Peter Knowles '22 is a staff writer in the sports section. He is a Psychology major from Valencia, California and plays on the Stanford Hockey team. Contact him at pknowles 'at' stanforddaily.com.