Was there ever any doubt that Maple Leaf GM Lou Lamoriello would sign franchise center Auston Matthews to an entry-level contract?
Welcome back for my latest Prospect Ramblings column.
This week, I look at the media mirage surrounding the Auston Matthews contract signing, the upcoming rookie tournaments across the league, and Chris Kreider affirming himself as a part of the Rangers’ future.
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Really, though, was there ever any doubt?
With the top-tier selections from this year’s entry draft putting their name to the dotted line, Maple Leaf fans began wringing their hands and loosening their collars in short order. Conspiracy theories abounded as many began embarking upon the narrative that Leafs’ GM Lou Lamoriello had an ethical dilemma with performance bonuses, thus slowing the process.
Would it be possible that Lou would grind out the new messiah for a few dollars? Could Lou's reputation for frugality sour the relationship and see the franchise savior bolt back to Europe? How is it even possible that the Leafs’ executive team would try to negotiate out of bonuses that were being offered to players going after Matthews like Patrik Laine or Pierre-Luc Dubois?
Days turned into weeks, and the contingent of blue and white faithful sporting their tinfoil hats flooded message boards with the fears that their betrothed top-line center may not, in fact, don his foretold No. 34 jersey.
And then came the news that, in true Lamoriello fashion, the Leafs had signed Matthews to his entry-level contract. Amidst all the concern, speculation and prognostication that comes with being a passionate fan-base, it was all much ado about nothing. Upon discussing the signing, the Leafs’ general manager shed light on the nuances involved in negotiating this particular contract.
Once the conversation had started between himself and uber-agent Pat Brisson, negotiations took "roughly 10 minutes."
Like I said … much ado about nothing.
Ultimately, performance bonuses are the cheques teams are typically happy to sign. Should Matthews hit the targets required to achieve the aforementioned bonuses, it would mean that he has done something like hit 20 goals and/or 60 points (which would make him this past season’s team leading scorer), or has won an award like the Art Ross or Hart. Pretty sure that anyone at MLSE would be pretty happy to sign that check.
Ultimately, we must remember as fans of teams and of this incredible game that drives our passion, that we need to breathe from time to time. Stop. Relax.
Not even years of truly epic mismanagement by past regimes could mess this one up.
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Although not of the same pomp and circumstance, the New York Rangers affirmed a key piece of their core moving forward by signing 25-year-old speedy winger Chris Kreider to a four-year, $18.5-million contract.
The Rangers paid the price to keep speedy homegrown crease-crasher Chris Kreider on their roster:
With a core of players that are both aging (Henrik Lundqvist) and under-performing (Marc Staal and Dan Girardi), a homegrown power forward in Kreider is a piece worth keeping.
Devoid of a first-round selection since 2012 when they selected promising defender Brady Skjei, the Rangers are a club that will need to maximize the young talent. With a prospect pool that projects to be largely comprised of role players with few blue chippers in the bunch, the Blueshirts are likely to look for a rebuild on the fly.
Kreider represents an excellent asset to retain on a go-forward basis, and while some may dispute his methods, he is a strong scorer with a nose for the net. The kind of size and skill combination he brings to an NHL roster is a rare thing, and it has been kept at a responsible price point. As a 21-goal scorer last season, both term and dollars make sense for each side in this equation.
Should Kreider produce at an equal or greater pace over the next four years, it will be a steal. If he regresses, the term and dollars are not prohibitive to a team reaching the cap ceiling.
While this past season has shown that the Rangers have many holes to fill, and not much time to capitalize on the closing window of King Henrik and his status as an elite goaltender, keeping a player like Kreider helps jam a wedge in that window.
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As the temperature reaches 45 C with the humidex (that's 113 Fahrenheit for my friends south of the border) in my home of St. Catharines, Ontario, a look to the future is needed.
The Detroit Red Wings will host their annual Traverse City tournament from September 16 to 20 at the Centre I.C.E Arena. This year will see prospects from the hosting Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and St. Louis Blues.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will take their 2016 Rookie Tournament back to London, Ontario, from Sept. 16 to 18 at Budweiser Gardens, home of the OHL’s London Knights. This year, the tournament will include prospects from the namesake Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, and the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Perhaps most star-studded could be the Vancouver Canucks Youngstars Tournament, being hosted Sept. 16 to 19 in Penticton, British Columbia, at the South Okanagan Events Centre. This year will feature the Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets. You could, however, also potentially read that as Olli Juolevi (fifth overall selection), Matthew Tkachuk (sixth overall), Jesse Puljujarvi (fourth overall) and Patrik Laine (second overall).
Get happy, hockey fans … it may be a way off, but winter is coming.
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