WINNIPEG – This is a classic example of when last is definitely not least.
After defenceman Neal Pionk inked a four-year deal worth $23.5 million ($5.875 million AAV) with the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday morning to avoid arbitration, forward Andrew Copp is the lone restricted free agent who needs a new contract.
Did we mention salary cap space is tight for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff?
According to PuckPedia, the Jets have already committed $82,865,478 to 21 players and they’re already on the hook for a bonus overage of $145,122.
That means the Jets are going to need to make some moves on the periphery of the roster — and they’re more likely to carry 22 (or maybe even 21) players instead of 23 when next season begins.
Even that might not be enough to balance the books and one of the considerations for the Jets might be subjecting defenceman Nathan Beaulieu to waivers and possibly sending him to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
By doing so, the Jets would be able to remove all but $125,000 of Beaulieu’s $1.25 million salary from the equation, creating some wiggle room — even after he’s potentially replaced by a veteran blue-liner making the league minimum.
After an exhilarating off-season that included the arrival of Nate Schmidt ($5.75 million) and Brenden Dillon ($3.9 million) in trades, bringing back Paul Stastny ($3.75 million) and inking restricted free agent D-man Logan Stanley to a two-year bridge deal ($900,000 AAV), most of the available money has already been spoken for.
And that includes a significant portion of the pool moving Bryan Little (up to $5.291 million) to LTIR will eventually provide.
Pionk deserved a sizable raise from the $3 million AAV he carried during his first two years with the Jets and that’s exactly what he received. He’s ultra competitive and it’s not a stretch to wonder if a partnership with Dillon might actually allow him to continue his progression.
When you consider some of the high-priced deals signed this summer, Pionk comes in at a very reasonable number. A four-year commitment is right in line with many of the other core pieces that were already secured through the 2023-24 season (and beyond).
So where do things stand with Copp?
That’s where things get interesting, especially with an arbitration date of Aug. 26 looming.
Both Copp and the Jets would prefer to get a longer-term deal taken care of at some point during the coming weeks, but that might not be possible in this flat-cap world. What we know for sure is that both parties want to avoid a second arbitration hearing. Another round of scar tissue isn’t a desired outcome — nor is it necessary.
Which brings us to what’s behind Door No. 3.
Although not optimal, inking Copp to a one-year deal for somewhere between $3.6-to-$3.85 million could be a palatable outcome for the Jets and for the player.
Copp doesn’t get the security he’s earned through his play, but he knows exactly where he stands and knows he’s valued by the coaching staff and his teammates for what he brings to the table. He’d be getting a raise and the expectation would be that a bigger deal would be on the horizon.
The Jets would get a highly-motivated player who has shown improvement each and every season he’s been in the NHL. With 15 goals and 39 points in 55 games, Copp was tracking to eclipse 20 goals and approach 60 points in a full season. That type of production isn’t easy to replace, especially when you consider Copp’s defensive awareness and his ability to grow into a leadership role.
This isn’t the only option left for the Jets to mull over, though.
Winnipeg Jets’ Adam Lowry (17) celebrates his goal with teammate Andrew Copp (9) during first period NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey action against the Montreal Canadiens, in Winnipeg, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (CP)
Plenty of folks will suggest the Jets should consider trading Copp if they can’t sign him to a longer-term deal.
Not so fast.
While some might see moving Copp in a deal as a way to try and recoup some of the draft capital (two seconds and a third) that were sacrificed to trade for Schmidt and Dillon, that’s not how teams in “win-now” mode generally roll.
If the Jets were to trade Copp, they’d be forced to replace a middle-six forward who contributes to both special-teams units — and they still wouldn’t have much money to do so.
Those players aren’t readily available, nor are they often found in the bargain bin.
Instead of trying to integrate a new player into the fold or promoting from within, Copp is a known commodity.
He’s not an easy player to replace — and that’s before you consider all of the energy he’s invested into the Jets’ program already.
Copp is ready to put down roots here in Manitoba, he’s not counting the days until he can leave as an unrestricted free agent or banging on the door of the GM demanding a trade to a tropical destination. He sees the potential with a group that features an improved roster and wants to be part of a potential payoff.
That’s why banking on him is the proper play for the Jets.
Copp isn’t going to be thrilled with having to take a one-year deal and it would be natural for him to feel frustrated by the process.
He’s seen the Jets commit to other members of the core and it’s hard not to feel slighted when one is not afforded the same recognition.
On the flip side, Copp is a guy who has never lacked motivation, nor has he been shy about using those challenges as fuel to push him to greater heights.
The concept of a self-rental isn’t universally loved and, obviously, comes with some risk attached to it.
Stuff happens and it doesn’t always work out.
The Jets do have some experience on this front — especially during the 2018 run to the Western Conference Final, when all of Ben Chiarot, Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev were headed toward unrestricted free agency.
With the Jets in a battle against the Nashville Predators for top spot in the North Division (and the President’s Trophy), there was never any thought given to moving those roster players for prospects, players or picks.
Sometimes, it’s just the cost of doing business.
A one-year deal doesn’t ensure that Copp walks for nothing on July 1 either, though it obviously increases the likelihood.
Consider this: if Copp is already worth somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4.5 million on a four-year deal right now, that number should only go up if he’s able to have another banner season.
But what if those same top-six minutes are not as readily available with the Jets this coming season?
It’s a logical question.
Ice time and opportunity almost always play a role in production, but even if Copp is used fairly regularly with longtime linemate Adam Lowry on the “third line” he will still be logging power play time and receiving substantial minutes.
Plus, when you consider the level of trust he’s built up over the years with Jets head coach Paul Maurice and the defensive acumen he brings to the table, Copp is almost always going to be the guy next in line to get the promotion when one arises — if he doesn’t force his way into a top-six job right out of training camp.
At every level he’s played, Copp has proven the doubters wrong and continued to carve out a bigger role for himself.
Don’t expect that to stop, no matter how this next step in the process turns out.
Copp provides tremendous value and versatility and the Jets are a better team when the Michigan product is in the lineup.
That’s precisely why this relationship should continue, even if a long-term commitment can’t currently be made.
Canucks keep surprising with ‘inexplicable’ comeback vs. Canadiens
VANCOUVER – Two weeks into his Calder Trophy season four years ago, Elias Pettersson was thrown violently to the ice in Florida by defenceman Mike Matheson, who had been embarrassed by the rookie Vancouver Canuck earlier in the shift.
Pettersson suffered a concussion, Matheson a two-game suspension and the incident set off an inferno of debate about the culture of both the Canucks and the National Hockey League.
But even then, as a 19-year-old with the physique of a 2-iron, Pettersson was tougher than he seemed. Tougher mentally and physically. Four years later for Pettersson and two teams later for Matheson, the Canucks’ elite two-way centre victimized the Montreal Canadiens’ defenceman in overtime to give Vancouver an inexplicable 7-6 victory in front of fans who have rarely been so entertained.
Pettersson may or may not have caused Matheson to blow a tire and lose the puck by touching the defenceman’s leg with his stick, but there was little doubt about the significance of the goal it caused – for the Canucks and Pettersson.
Stronger in every sense than he was four years ago, Pettersson skated the puck to the net from a sharp angle as Matheson retreated and tucked a forehand deke through the pads of Montreal goalie Sam Montembeault.
Asked after the game if he realized in the moment whom he had just pilfered and embarrassed, Pettersson looked a long time at the questioner before deadpanning: “I’m going to say, ‘No comment.’” He knew.
This was Pettersson’s revenge.
At least that’s the storyline we’re going with in a game that could have spawned an alternate universe. For the first time since 1973, the Canucks rallied from a four-goal deficit to win. After the Canadiens scored four times in the first period, the Canucks eventually blew a 5-4 lead late in the third, trailed 6-5, then tied it on Andrei Kuzmenko’s power-play goal with Vancouver relief netminder Collin Delia on the bench for an extra attacker.
And then Pettersson won it 13 seconds into overtime.
“If they had called a penalty there, I would have been upset,” he said. “I didn’t touch his skates. I saw that I had an open lane (to the net). And I saw their goalie had one knee down at the post and it looked like if I made a long move, I might be able to get it through.”
Later, in his press scrum, Pettersson told reporters: “I don’t know if it was relief to score a goal or whatever, but just, overall, the emotion all game, to be down four and come back, be down one again and then tie it at the end, it was a game that had a lot of emotions and I’m glad we came up on top tonight.”
A game with 13 goals deserves that many clauses in one sentence.
“Man, we got the two points; that’s all I can say,” Canuck captain Bo Horvat said. “At the end of the day, I don’t care how we did it, we got it done. Obviously, it was not pretty. We made it pretty hard on ourselves but we showed a lot of resilience tonight. And Dells stepping in (for starting goalie Spencer Martin) and playing as well as he did … it was a fun one. It was a Monday Night Football game.”
Maybe the Canucks would be good at football. They appear to have some flaws as a hockey team.
Unable to figure how to defend leads and win, now they don’t even know how to lose properly. Canuck teams don’t come back from 4-0 late in the second period. They don’t score seven goals in the final 23½ minutes.
They don’t finish a four-game homestand at 2-2 when they led for less than seven minutes in more than four hours of hockey.
“That’s just the rollercoaster of emotions — kind of how you do not want to play the game, really,” Canuck veteran J.T. Miller said. “You want to play even-keel. But when you give up four that quickly, it was kind of a shell shock because … we had been absolutely dominant. Shots were 9-0 (at the start). A couple breakdowns and we’ve just got to get out of that habit of giving them up bang, bang, bang, bang. You’re not going to come back from 4-0 every day. But we talked about getting two in the second (period). But we had so many guys step up. Petey’s line was awesome; Petey was dominant.”
After Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win against Arizona, when the Canucks chased the mighty Coyotes all game, Pettersson’s line was reconfigured by desperate coach Bruce Boudreau. Brock Boeser, who went from being a healthy scratch to outed on the trade block to goal-scoring hero in one eventful Saturday, was deployed Monday alongside Pettersson and winger Ilya Mikheyev.
Mikheyev scored twice on perfect passes from Pettersson, who finished with three points, giving him 32 in 26 games this season.
Horvat, Conor Garland and Jack Studnicka, with the Canucks’ first go-ahead goal at 8:49 of the third period, also scored for Vancouver.
It was impossible to foresee when the score was 4-0 that Studnicka and Delia would become key figures in a Canuck victory. But most of their season has been a surprise. The Canucks are Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.
“It’s funny, I feel like every game, it’s so live or die,” Miller said. “It’s 82 games. We’ve won a lot of games in the last 15 or 20 (but), it’s a process. It’s not going to be pretty every night. I’m just proud of the group. We had a lot of different guys step up tonight, which is awesome.”
The Canucks have lost seven games this season after leading by two or three goals. But now they’ve won one when they trailed by four.
Darnell Nurse sounds off on Edmonton Oilers slow starts after Stuart Skinner faces 50 shots
Another slow start for the Edmonton Oilers wasn’t their undoing against the Washington Capitals in Monday’s 3-2 loss, but it certainly didn’t help either.
The Oilers were outshot 22-12 in the opening frame, with Stuart Skinner turning aside all 22 in his eventual 47-save performance in the loss.
“We come in here and we talk about it every day,” Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse said of his team’s starts. “We sit here after the game, talk about it over and over and over. … We want to have good starts each and every night but, you know, we’re sitting here and it’s a part of our game. We’re almost a quarter of the way through the season.
“The more we just talk away and pester at it, we need to just show up and play. Relax, pin our ears back and come out on the on the attack.”
The Oilers were outshot 50-30 on Monday, including 19-7 in the second period, when Skinner allowed two goals.
“We weren’t as quick and physical as we wanted to be in the defensive zone,” Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Our goalie stood tall. We’re 2-2 going into the third period. We made a critical error, and it ended up in the back of our net.”
Skinner Unfazed as Oilers Allow 50 Shots
Skinner, who has moved into the starting role ahead of Jack Campbell over the past month, saw his record drop to 7-6 on the season, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.93 goals-against average.
The 50 shots faced against the Capitals were a season high for Skinner, who said the early barrage helped put him the zone.
“I think if you get a few [early] chances on you and make all the saves, it’s a little bit of a confidence booster,” Skinner said. “They got on the power play and I got a few shots on the power play, so after that I was ready to go.”
The loss dropped the Oilers to 14-12-0 on the season as the team currently sits in the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Recap: Brazil vs South Korea – World Cup 2022
Neymar has returned from injury to help Brazil thump South Korea 4-1, setting up a World Cup quarter-final clash against Croatia.
Four unanswered Brazilian goals in the first half at Stadium 974 on Monday set an imperious tone for a team with their sights firmly on a sixth World Cup title.
And while the game settled in the second period, it was never sluggish or scrappy, and a spirited South Korea fought hard to score a consolation goal in the 76th minute.
It took just seven minutes for Brazil to get off the mark, with Raphinha picking up the ball just outside the box and rushing in on the right side, sending in a pass to Neymar. The Paris Saint-Germain number 10 was brought down by his marker and the ball ended up at the feet of Vinicius Jr, in acres of space.
The Real Madrid star steadied himself before placing it to the right of Kim Seung-gyu in the South Korean goal.
Just three minutes later, Richarlison was brought down by Jung Woo-young inside the box, and the referee pointed to the spot. Neymar, who had reportedly flown his barber out to Qatar to dye his hair blonde following previous victories over South Korea with bleached hair, wasted no time in slotting it into the bottom-right of the net. Brazil was up two-nil with less than 15 minutes on the clock.
South Korea had their share of chances, with Hwang Hee-chan, fresh off scoring the winner against Portugal, having a go from a distance but sending the ball comfortably over the bar. Moments later, Allison was forced to make a diving save to his left, his first save of the tournament.
But Paolo Bento’s men were simply outclassed in every part of the pitch.
A remarkable piece of skill in the 26th minute saw Richarlison juggling the ball, heading it to himself three times while evading defenders on the edge of the South Korean box. He then passed the ball before running through on goal to receive the return, firing the ball in for Brazil’s third.
Just 10 minutes later, Vinicius Jr set up Lucas Paqueta with a cheeky chip, and the midfielder shot low and right. Kim Seung-gyu could do little but look at the ball nestling in the back of the net.
With four goals before half-time, Brazil was putting down a marker for any teams who think they might have a chance of lifting the trophy on December 18.
Son Heung-min nearly clawed one back for South Korea straight after the restart, but Alisson — who must, through this game alone, be in contention for the Golden Glove — got enough of his arm onto the shot to tip it wide.
Faced with the intensity of Brazil’s onslaught, South Korea tried to slow the game, but more chances for Raphinha and Vinicius Jr followed despite the best efforts of the men in red.
Then came the 77th minute, and out of nowhere, Paik Seung-ho scored from outside the box. A free kick for South Korea was bundled clear by the Brazilian defence, falling to Paik, who belted it past Alisson’s dive to find the top-right corner. Finally, the South Korean fans had something to cheer about.
South Korea continued to work hard in defence and create chances in attack, but that goal was to be their only score, and they head home having been soundly beaten by one of the best teams in the world.
Brazil will face Croatia in the quarter-finals at Education City on Friday.
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