Ryan Lambert

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  • When an NHL insider becomes an inside man (Trending Topics)

    Getty ImagesThe long and protracted soap opera of Nazem Kadri's restricted free agent status came to an end earlier this week when the young center acquiesced to the demands of Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis and signed for short money and shorter term.

    Getting Kadri at two years and $2.9 million per was a coup for Nonis that few probably had any right to expect, so given as he was to doing everything exactly wrong in the deals and decisions completed earlier this summer. There was a lot of talk that the reason Kadri was forced to take this deal after he was seeking — depending upon who you believed — anywhere between $4 million and the U.S. GDP for something in the range of five to several million years largely because he had no leverage.

    To some extent, this was true. The league is now being ruthlessly set up so that kids, no matter how good or bad they are, can either get paid what teams want to pay them (which you'll understand is considerably below market value) for a relatively short period of time, or they can get paid not at all, and sit at home and cry about it until someone comes calling with an attractive enough offer sheet that they can get their money from someone. Such was the story of Ryan O'Reilly, who was averse to re-sign with Colorado for anything less than what he ended up getting from Calgary before the Avalanche matched in that whole Jay Feaster-fueled debacle last winter.

    Meanwhile, though, Leafs training camp opened without the team's other unsigned restricted free agent, defenseman Cody Franson, having decided to come in and do what the world expected him to do and what his former brother in arms already did. The kind of conviviality with which Kadri is now being welcomed by the team — Randy Carlyle has already stated that he might give Kadri a run-out as the pivot between Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk — awaits the 26-year-old defenseman if only he'd sign for only a modest raise from the $1.2 million he was paid last year.

    Kadri buckled, Cody Franson didn't. And as training camp wears on, it's going to be fascinating to watch how or, I suppose, if the hockey world turns its scorn on the last remaining guy in the organization to sign.

    Because it sure did for Kadri. Or rather, the hockey world kind of just said, "Ah, Kadri should take the money because he doesn't have the leverage," which was true to some extent. The Leafs would certainly have been only hurting themselves if he'd actually stuck by his guns instead of throwing them down and marching out of the fort with his hands in the air pleading for the firing to stop.

    But there was this one person in the hockey world, who just so happens to have the heft to make it seem like the walls were closing in around him like a Death Star garbage compactor.

    The world really began to take notice that Kadri had gone unsigned when the calendar flipped from August to September and with training camp a mere week and a half away, the rumors started swirling thanks in large part to TSN insider Darren Dreger, whose near-daily hits on Toronto-area radio stations focused largely and understandably on the situation with that kid who scored 44 points last season despite getting next to no minutes.

    Or rather, those conversations focused on how desperately he needed to start seeing things the Leafs' way and take less money and fewer years than he wanted and probably deserved.

    You know, for his own good.

    Read More »from When an NHL insider becomes an inside man (Trending Topics)
  • Getty ImagesHello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

    The signings of Marcus Johansson and Mikkel Boedker seemed to signal that better-publicized cases of Nazem Kadri and Alex Pietrangelo would be wrapped up due to their players' acquiescence to the demands of their teams.

    This of course ignores how much better the latter two players have been in their time in the world's best hockey league than the former; but largely lost in all this is the fact that Derek Stepan, too, remains unsigned in New York and seems likely to get shorted by Glen Sather if he wants a contract at all, which one would assume he does.

    If anything, Stepan is and should be a more interesting case than Kadri, due to the much longer history of success in the league (three full seasons, 0.66 points per game in 212 career appearances).

    Not that Pietrangelo has anything to show anyone a thing about his game, in the way that critics have some sort of point in implying Kadri does, but that applies to Stepan, too. He had 51 points as a 21-year-old sophomore in 2011-12, and followed that up with an identical-to-Kadri 18 goals and 44 points in the shortened season. Just as Dave Nonis is getting rightly roasted for signing everyone before his promising young center, so too should Sather be receiving the same criticism.

    Read More »from What We Learned: Derek Stepan should get paid, NY Rangers deserve criticism
  • Getty ImagesWe are now mere days away from the start of NHL training camps, and in many cases rookies and veterans alike have already taken the ice for informal workouts, captains' practices, and the like.

    The problem with that, though, is that there is a fairly surprising number of restricted free agents who enter the season without a contract, and that could be a part of a very troubling trend for teams going forward.

    It's probably safe to say that a lot of players around the league weren't especially happy with the terms foisted upon them – in so draconian a manner – by the owners as they brought the lockout to its merciful end last January. It gave players less of a chance to earn a lot of money for a longer period of their careers — for the good of the league and all that — and simultaneously seems to have taken away a lot of rights for restricted free agency that could help the younger players in particular to earn paydays commensurate with their skill levels.

    What the new CBA also seems to have done is allowed teams to start digging in their heels once again over the "second contract" or "bridge contract" or "not especially fair contract" that had become so much less prevalent in the wake of the Second Bettman Lockout (2BL).

    Kevin Lowe, of course, is the reason that type of contract ceased to be a common thing in the NHL, having extended massive offer sheets to both Thomas Vanek and Dustin Penner in the summer of 2007 and inspiring that whole barn-fightin', name-callin' feud with Brian Burke. With those two deals — one accepted by the Ducks, the other matched by the Sabres — RFA contracts got, in the view of teams themselves, seriously out of whack.

    To some extent, too, that was true. After all, Penner pulled $4.25 million a year against the cap on that offer sheet, and Vanek's likewise landed him more than $7.14 million. This was when the salary cap was just $50.3 million altogether. The percentage of that money against the cap would have made them worth $5.4 million and $9.13 million, respectively in today's dollars. Now, granted, Vanek was coming off his career-best season at 43 goals and 84 points, and so it might have been reasonable to assume that he'd be due somewhere north of $8 million at this point, but Penner was the David Clarkson of his era, racking up 29 goals and 45 points (albeit following a dominant season at the AHL level).

    Other RFAs, and their agents, looked at those deals and said, "Me too." Prior to that, they'd generally been paid more on their second deals than on their entry-level contracts, as you might expect, but they were typically not yet cashing in the big bucks that production like Vanek's 40-plus-goal-and-point-a-game season would have been due to someone on an expiring deal who, say, had some unrestricted years in his very near future. It used to be that the only way to cash in on major production for the most part was to wait out UFA status. After the Lowe offer sheets, that was no longer the case. It only makes sense.

    All of which brings us to the present, and a time during which young players are paid for their production, for the most part (some remain, somewhat bafflingly, paid for their potential, which is something that's not always easy to understand; frankly, one need look no deeper than the James van Riemsdyk debacle in Philadelphia a few years ago to see how that kind of thing will often turn out). Being paid the same at 22 that a 28-year-old producing about the same amount seems like a wholly equitable way of doing things.

    Which is why it's so weird to see what's happening across the league now.

    Read More »from Are NHL training camp holdouts now the norm for young stars? (Trending Topics)
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    Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    One thing that you hear a lot when it comes to guys signing contracts is how they have or have not earned it. Corey Crawford, for example, this week "earned" his new lengthy and expensive extension with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    It's easy to see why this is an argument people would make. He posted a 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in the regular season (though he was weirdly not nominated for the Vezina, and by weirdly I mean not-weirdly), then improved on both those numbers with a 1.84 and .932 line en route to his club's second Stanley Cup in four years. With it came not only all the laudatory back-patting due a player who backstops such an easy run to the grandest trophy in sports, but also an invite to Canada's Olympic orientation camp and a lot of talk about how he looks like a very strong possibility to make the team given how he really picked it up this past season.

    These are stunning numbers to be sure, low and high exactly where they should be and a potential indicator that the Blackhawks have one of the elitest-of-the-elite franchise goaltenders on their hands.

    Certainly they are paying him as such. The contract doesn't kick in until the start of the 2014-15 season and thus by that point he could move up or down the ranks a little, but as of this moment he is in line to be the fifth-highest paid netminder in the league behind only Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne, Carey Price and Cam Ward.

    Meanwhile, Nazem Kadri finished tied for 21st in NHL scoring this past season, netting 44 points as a 22-year-old forward who played in each of the Leafs' 48 games. He was the only person to finish in the top 32 in scoring while playing fewer than 18 minutes a night, having gotten just 16:03 TOI on average. He has however gone unsigned to this point, in part because of the Maple Leafs' cap crunch but mainly because of Dave Nonis's insistence that he accept a team-friendly bridge deal, which in turn translates to the belief that he has in some way not earned the money that would normally be due a player who can score .917 points per game in a way that, say, David Clarkson just for an example clearly has.

    Read More »from Contract extensions, Corey Crawford and the idea of ‘earning it’ (Trending Topics Extra)
  • Getty ImagesHello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

    Tony Gallagher's column yesterday was about the way in which the salary cap has had a negative impact on the ability of big-market, profitable teams to spend as they normally would on talent in the offseason, and what that essentially means for the fans in those markets.

    (Gallagher equated it to a "screw you" from the NHL, which given the league's history with these kinds of gestures probably isn't all that far from the essence of the truth, even if it misses the mark somewhat.)

    Contained within that column was the nugget that the Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning are spending more or less the same amount on players this season.
    The implication was that this was inherently unfair to the fans in the "traditional" (see also: money-making) (see also also: Canadian) hockey markets because you're paying, by Gallagher's count, $390 there to see a team of the same quality as someone paying $90 in Tampa, which seems a generous estimate of what a ticket to a Lightning game probably costs these days.

    But what that misses, really, is the fact that these teams with their high revenues —remember, there are only a small number that actually make money every season, and thus can spend commensurately — didn't so much want to stick it to their fans.

    Read More »from What We Learned: Blame your NHL owners for your team’s cap crunch, difficulty competing on
  • Calgary Flames are going to be monumentally bad (Trending Topics)

    Getty Images

    Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    The preseason starts in slightly more than two weeks and that in turn has prompted a large and growing number of hockey publications reputable and otherwise to begin publishing their predictions for who will finish where in the standings.

    There is, as you might expect, some disparity between each prediction, especially as it relates to the middle and, particularly, toward the top of the League. While this is a year in which it feels wise and just to rate the reigning Stanley Cup winners as especially clear favorites, which is something you can't always say despite the fact that everyone does it on an annual basis nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that the new playoff format, division changes, etc. are doing a lot to muddy the waters around the middle and even bottom of the standings.

    There is, however, a pretty clear consensus as to who it is that will finish in the League's basement.

    They are, obviously, the Calgary Flames, who have been spectacularly mediocre with delusions that they were on the very cusp of goodness for a period of a few years.

    Read More »from Calgary Flames are going to be monumentally bad (Trending Topics)
  • Getty ImagesHello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

    The praise poured in pretty much all weekend for the Washington Capitals after they signed Mikhail Grabovski to a sweetheart $3 million, one-year deal on Friday, bringing the long-rumored contract into the realm of reality.

    As well they should have. The decision to amnesty Grabovski was a comically bad one from Toronto, the kind you should have already come to expect from the Randy Carlyle/Dave Nonis two-headed-and-no-brained collective, and every team could use a player like him. That Washington won the sweepstakes with a relatively low bid of $3 million (and the apparent promise from Adam Oates that he's free to take all Kovalchuk-length power play shifts he wants) came as little surprise. The Caps are of course always trying to be in the Eastern European market and Grabovski seems, on the surface, to be a pretty good No. 2 center option behind Nicklas Backstrom. He certainly serves as an upgrade, in terms of both production and price point, from the now-departed Mike Ribeiro.

    But the problem with the signing, and more importantly what people seem to think it means for the Capitals, is that it doesn't seem likely to matter very much. This does not instantly make the Capitals anything besides a borderline playoff threat at the absolute and very best, if everything breaks their way.

    Read More »from What We Learned: Even with Grabovski, Capitals are just borderline playoff team
  • The balance of power has shifted east in NHL (Trending Topics)

    Getty ImagesTrending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    Since time out of mind in the NHL (you know, dating back like two lockouts ago), the Western Conference has been appreciably stronger than the East. The teams that aren't clustered up and down the east coast of the continent long held sway in terms of overall quality, even if they had a general paucity of truly superstar players.

    While Sid Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos were lighting up the league in most of the last several years, five of the last seven Stanley Cup winners came out of the West, as did seven of the last nine Presidents' Trophy winners. When looked at as a whole, the West consistently was producing No. 6, 7, and 8 seeds that would have been division winners in the East.

    But now, it's time to ask if those days have come to an end. Yes, with the shift of the Red Wings to the Eastern Conference, the West lost one of its giants, but more importantly it seems that the teams in the East which are truly good have finally and definitively passed their Western counterparts. While it's not necessarily fair to base such a seismic shift on results from last season, which featured no interconference games, there was an even split among top-10 teams in the league between the East and West.

    Read More »from The balance of power has shifted east in NHL (Trending Topics)
  • What We Learned: Henrik Lundqvist and the weight of human rights advocacy

    Getty ImagesHello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

    The thing with being an advocate for any cause is that, at some point, people come to expect you to uphold your beliefs when you might not want to do so.

    Take, for example, Henrik Lundqvist, who this week drew a lot of richly deserved criticism for answering a question about his feelings on Russia's anti-gay laws by saying:

    "I have no problem with talking about some of my views in other contexts, but when it comes to the Olympics, I think you should just focus on the sport."

    This was a problem, obviously, because it didn't necessarily jibe with his previous support for the You Can Play initiative to get homophobia out of sports. That he lent his time and celebrity to supporting such a cause is clearly noble and a generally decent thing to do. That he then turtled when someone asked him a direct question about something that he obviously cares about on some level and he demurred, well, it's reason enough to at least be curious as to why it happened.

    Initially, you could have dismissed the talk as something of a party line from the Swedish team as a whole, at least while it conducted its orientation camp last week. After all, the team's coach, Pär Mårts said:

    "We are there to play hockey, we leave everything else to others, such as the government. We have received orders that we are doing sport and that we should not do anything different."

    Orders are orders, so while it was fair to criticize Lundqvist, you could at least see where he was coming from in not commenting. But then, a few days later, it turned out some of his Swedish teammates, Henrik Zetterberg and Victor Hedman, came out of the corner swinging.

    "It's terrible, incredibly awful," Zetterberg said. "It is unbelievable that in this era such laws exist, especially in a country as big as Russia."

    Added Hedman, "It's completely wrong, we're all humans. No one should have a say in what way you're sexually oriented."

    The problem, though, is that those quotes also came from that Swedish Olympic camp. Doesn't make Lundqvist, a previously-outspoken advocate of gay issues, look too good. Saying that the Olympics should be about sport and sport only kind of makes it seem as though he thinks hockey should be more important than this terribly sad state of affairs for what is very much a human rights issue.

    But this is an issue far more complicated than that.

    Read More »from What We Learned: Henrik Lundqvist and the weight of human rights advocacy
  • Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

    There was a lot of hubbub — some might even go so far as to say hullabaloo — this week about the fact that Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara had the nerve to actually be photographed at the Stanley Cup party of his neighbor and best friend Marian Hossa.

    What temerity it must take to show that he has not spent the summer doing nothing but riding an exercise bike in a sweltering basement 20 hours a day, then crying in agony another three, before sleeping un-fitfully through the remaining 60 minutes, so haunted should he be by nightmares of losing in by the narrowest of margins, the most agonizing fashion imaginable, in a series in which his team won two out of six games.

    Except not really, of course.

    This was and, I suppose, still is a product of the fact that the photo came out on Aug. 12, when the only other notable news was that the Maple Leafs signed MLSE president Tim Leiweke's future son-in-law despite underwhelming AHL numbers as a 28-year-old. And that minor embarrassment to the worst-run organization in the league only came several hours after Chara humiliated himself by being photographed with the guy who was best man at his wedding on a day of celebration had broken, allowing everyone to get their dander up about something this insipid.

    This is the kind of thing that makes crybaby hometown fans and bored sportswriters (who are sometimes one in the same) stuck in their summer doldrums all upset.

    Read More »from Zdeno Chara, what have you done to Boston’s sports fans? (Trending Topics)

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