EDMONTON — Zack Kassian for four more years with an annual average value of $3.2 million.
Did the Edmonton Oilers pay too much? Well, let’s dig into that:
Kassian is a pending unrestricted free agent, right-shot, right-winger who just turned 29 on Jan. 24. So he’ll be 33 years old when he’s closing out this deal. The risk that stands out for Edmonton is term length, the most common issue with UFA, or pending UFA deals.
Does Edmonton general manager Ken Holland worry about signing a 29-year-old player to a four-year term?
“I guess if you do, then you never sign anybody,” Holland said over the phone from the Oilers scouting meetings in Palm Springs.
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There are a myriad of factors, which we’ll explore in this piece, when signing a player. But as a pending UFA, the team cedes some control over the process to the player. As opposed to a deal for restricted free agent Darnell Nurse, which is likely to be left for the summer.
“There are risks for the player, and there are risks for the club. Ultimately, if you want to get people signed you’ve got to make decisions,” Holland said. “In Detroit I did lots of good contracts, but I’ve got some bad contracts. If you just want to focus in on the bad ones, I guess you can. Ultimately, if you don’t want to be criticized (as a GM), you can just sit and do nothing.”
So, let’s talk comparables for Kassian.
Anecdotally, you could say that Kassian is Tom Wilson Lite, a big (six-foot-three, 211 pounds) physical player who can trade pucks with a superstar like Connor McDavid — to the extent that McDavid could well win an Art Ross Trophy and have a career offensive season while playing nearly all of his even strength minutes with Kassian on his right flank.
In July 2018, Wilson (RW) signed a six-year, $31 million deal with Washington, with an AAV of $5.16 million — nearly twice what Kassian will earn. Wilson was 24 when he signed that contract, but this season he has 12 even strength goals and 29 even strength points in 50 games, while Kassian has 13 even strength goals and 28 points in 44 games at 5-on-5.
(We’ll compare Kassian at 5-on-5, as he averages just 24 seconds of power-play time per game, and two seconds shorthanded.)
Last season, when Kassian split the year on and off McDavid’s wing, he had 14 goals and 25 points at even strength, compared to 17 goals and 33 points for Wilson.
Another comparable is left-winger Micheal Ferland, who last summer signed a four-year, $14 million deal with Vancouver, at age 27 — two years younger than Kassian. Ferland’s AAV is $3.5 million, compared to $3.2 for Kassian.
While Kassian has played 79, 74 and 79 games in the past three seasons, in the three seasons before signing Ferland had also played 76, 77 and 71 games. It is only this season where Ferland’s concussion issues have limited his action, playing just 14 games for the Canucks thus far.
Production-wise, in the three seasons prior to signing their deals, Ferland averaged 13 goals and 28 points at even strength — exactly what Kassian has compiled through roughly half a season (44 games) on Edmonton’s top line this season. Again, the McDavid factor kicks in, and it’s difficult to gauge how a McDavid winger should be paid.
Remember, Pat Maroon had a career year (24 goals, 36 points at even strength) playing next to McDavid in 2016-17, but when he became a UFA in 2018 the market was not kind to Maroon, who signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with St. Louis. Even after winning a Stanley Cup with the Blues, he had to wait until August to get a one-year, $900,000 deal with Tampa Bay last summer.
The difference in the Maroon comparable is Kassian’s foot speed, which is major currency in today’s game.
Kassian can skate as well as any big man in the league, and has the hands to augment McDavid’s game. Rather than a slowing Milan Lucic, who constantly lost the puck or missed his passes — both receiving and delivering — depriving McDavid of valuable possession time.
Sidney Crosby has taught us that it’s not easy to play with, and augment the game of, a superstar player. And the fact Kassian is still ‘scary tough,’ is not lost on McDavid, who believes there is still much value in having a modern day Dave Semenko riding shotgun to his Wayne Gretzky.
“Absolutely, yes,” McDavid said. “You need those big, tough guys on your team, and it’s nice to play with one alongside me every night. There are not many bigger and tougher than Zack Kassian.”
One final intangible is the fact that Kassian has whipped the addictions that caused him to waste much of the first half of his career. He is settled in Edmonton and looks forward to raising a family there — and the UFA market is lean on players who would say that.
He’s hungry to recoup lost years (and revenue), and most importantly Kassian shows no signs of losing any foot speed. He has become a leader here, and if Holland were to let him walk, finding a commensurate replacement player would be iffy, and to lure him to Edmonton might well cost what Kassian is being paid.
“He’s got security, and I’ve got the security of knowing he’s going to be on the team,” Holland said. “He’s at a good age. He’s respected in the locker room.”
Netherlands, Senegal advance out of Group A after wins on final match day
Senegal’s Kalidou Koulibaly, right, celebrates with teammates scoring his side’s second goal during the World Cup group A soccer match between Ecuador and Senegal, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (Francisco Seco/AP)
AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly put his team into the last 16 of the World Cup by volleying home the winner in a 2-1 victory over Ecuador on Tuesday.
Koulibaly scored three minutes after Moises Caicedo had evened the score at 1-1.
In a must-win match for the African champions, Senegal took the lead after a first-half penalty by Ismaila Sarr. Caicedo scored his goal in the 67th.
At 1-1, Ecuador would have advanced from Group A and Senegal would have been eliminated.
The Netherlands beat Qatar 2-0 in the other match to win the group. Senegal finished second while Ecuador and Qatar were eliminated.
Senegal last advanced from the group stage at the 2002 World Cup, when the team reached the quarterfinals in its tournament debut.
Netherlands 2, Qatar 0
AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — The Netherlands finished off the worst showing by any World Cup host nation by beating Qatar 2-0 on Tuesday.
The Dutch advanced to the round of 16 by winning Group A while the Qataris, who were already eliminated, became the first host to lose all three of its group matches at soccer’s biggest event.
Cody Gakpo put the Netherlands ahead midway through the first half with his third goal in as many matches and Frenkie de Jong doubled the advantage five minutes into the second half.
The Netherlands is a three-time runner-up at the World Cup, and also finished third in 2014, while Qatar was making its tournament debut.
The Dutch failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
The Netherlands finished with seven points at the top of the group. Senegal, which beat Ecuador 2-1 in the other group game, advanced in second place with six points. Ecuador was eliminated with four points and Qatar ended with zero.
The attendance at Al Bayt Stadium, which also hosted Qatar’s loss to Ecuador in the tournament opener, was given as 66,784 — nearly at full capacity. There were small pockets of orange-clad Netherlands supporters, and Qatar fans behind one of the goals who chanted in unison and jumped up and down.
At one point during the second half, Qatar fans held aloft a large Palestinian flag that said “Free Palestine” on it.
In the 26th minute, Gakpo took control outside the area, dribbled forward and unleashed a powerful side-footed shot between two defenders that entered inside the right post.
Gakpo became the fourth Dutch player to score in three consecutive World Cup games after Johan Neeskens (1974), Dennis Bergkamp (1994) and Wesley Sneijder (2010). He also became only the second player to open the scoring for his team three times in the same group stage after Alessandro Altobelli for Italy in 1986.
De Jong’s goal came when he sprinted forward uncontested to knock in a rebound from close range following a shot from Memphis Depay.
A possible third goal for the Netherlands by Steven Berghuis was waved off following a video review for a handball in the buildup.
Berghuis then hit the bar in added time.
While the Netherlands dominated the possession and created many more chances, Qatar did push forward on occasion and there was a nervy moment for the Dutch when goalkeeper Andries Noppert had trouble collecting a long-range shot from Ismael Mohamed after Gakpo’s goal.
Gakpo drew level with France standout Kylian Mbappé and Ecuador veteran Enner Valencia atop the tournament scoring chart.
For club and country in all competitions this season, Gakpo has been involved in 35 goals in 29 appearances with 17 goals scored and 18 assists.
That should make the 23-year-old PSV Eindhoven forward the target for an expensive transfer in the upcoming months.
‘We came to make history’: Canada hoping to achieve more firsts at World Cup
UMM SALAL, Qatar – Even if Canada can’t advance to the knockout stage, a strong finish to the World Cup will have lasting ramifications.
Thursday’s game against Morocco simultaneously means nothing from a Canadian perspective, but the players know that it’s imperative that they close out the tournament by achieving another first.
“We came here to the World Cup to make history,” said Alphonso Davies after training on Tuesday. “First game didn’t go our way, we played well but we didn’t get the three points we wanted. I’m happy to put my name in the history books [versus Croatia], we showed the quality but definitely, in this third game, we want to finish with three points.”
“This group has been chasing and reaching history throughout this journey,” stated midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “There’s a lot of records that were broken and we’ll continue going on that journey.”
It’s vitally important that Canada doesn’t close out the World Cup with a whimper. Sure, losing the first two matches and ending any hopes of reaching the knockout stage is a disappointment, as Osorio pointed out, but every casual or hardcore fan will remember this tournament a lot more fondly if it ends on a high.
“We do believe that we are good enough to pass through to the next round,” said Osorio. “Unfortunately the results didn’t go our way but I think we put together two pretty good performances.”
In fairness to Canada, the final 25 minutes of the first half in the Croatia defeat were horrific. But they responded well after halftime until Andrej Kramaric completed his brace.
Morocco won’t be an easy test, either, having drawn Croatia and beaten Belgium to line itself up for a possible appearance in the last 16.
But there’s no doubt that Canada’s first appearance at a men’s World Cup in 36 years will be a boon for the sport.
It starts with the players. Alistair Johnston is close to joining Scottish champions Celtic, who will participate in the Champions League if it goes back-to-back in the Premiership. Ismael Kone has been linked to several clubs in Europe as well.
“Each and every guy on this team has the potential to play in the top five leagues in the world,” said Davies.
“The quality we have in this team is tremendous. I feel that is definitely showing itself in their abilities on this stage.”
Plus there are the future stars of tomorrow who will be even more motivated to pursue soccer as a sport having seen their heroes square off against the best in the world.
“We’re hoping that the dream of the Canadian kid starts to evolve,” said Osorio. “It’s not a dream of making the World Cup. It’s a dream of getting past the first round, getting to the semifinals, getting to the final and someday winning the World Cup, why not?”
Scoring the first goal in men’s national team history at a World Cup will go a long way toward achieving that goal. A win over Morocco to cap off the first appearance in 36 years would be even greater.
From there, strong showings at the 2023 Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup will only prepare the team for a historic World Cup at home in 2026.
World Cup Iran-US: Why Iran gave the US players flowers in 1998
Amid harsh barbs and heated geopolitics, the last World Cup match-up between Iran and the United States began with an unlikely gesture – bouquets of white flowers.
The flowers, Iran’s coach later said, were meant as a symbol of peace ahead of the 1998 showdown in France.
Two decades later, political tensions were again high ahead of the Iran-US game in Qatar.
The previous match, held in Lyon, came 20 years after diplomatic relations between the two nations were severed as a result of the storming of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 and subsequent 444 day hostage crisis.
Just one month before kick-off, the US State Department labelled Iran the world’s “most active” state sponsor of terrorism, while several high-level Iranian officials kept up a steady drumbeat of anti-US rhetoric.
Despite the tensions evident in the halls of the United Nations and in the Persian Gulf, Iran’s players – led by California-based manager Jalal Talebi – decided to start the match with a signal that the only competition between the two would be on the pitch.
“We decided to make something special,” Mr Talebi said in an oral history of the match produced by ESPN.
“Let us go inside and give them nice flowers to say that we are here for peace. We are not here for fighting or anything.”
The US team reciprocated, giving their opponents US Soccer Federation (USSF) pennants. Together, the squads posed for a group picture, with many of the players smiling ahead of the high-pressure match.
“I thought that was great,” Cobi Jones, then a midfielder for the US team, said in the ESPN report.
“It’s just like a sign of like sport trumping politics and all that. That was very important and having the mixed photo was great.”
The days leading up to the World Cup rematch on Tuesday between the two teams were once again marked by tensions, coming amid widespread anti-government protests in Iran and just after the USSF removed the emblem of the Islamic Republican from the flag it posted in online graphics.
The pictures were later deleted, and US manager Gregg Berhalter apologised, saying that “sometimes things are out of our control” and that he and the US team were only focused on football.
The US team went into the match hoping to avoid a repeat of the 1998 game, which ended with a 2-1 victory for Iran, though both countries were eliminated from the tournament after the game.
Alexi Lalas, a Fox Sports commentator who was a member of the 1998 team, told the Associated Press that the current US team would be well advised not to ignore the wider geopolitics surrounding the current match.
“Understanding the importance of this game, not just from a soccer perspective but from a cultural perspective, I think is crucial for the United States,” he said, addressing what would motivate the US on the pitch.
The US-Iran match in Qatar ended 1-0 in the Americans’ favour after a goal from Christian Pulisic in the 38th minute.
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