CHICAGO — Fresh from being swept out of the Eastern Conference finals by the Bruins, the Penguins on Thursday moved star center Evgeni Malkin among the game’s richest wage earners, extending his contract for the maximum eight years for a total $76 million.
Malkin’s cap hit of $9.5 million, which will take hold in October 2014, is roughly 10 percent above the $8.7 million of teammate and fellow megastar Sidney Crosby. Sid the Kid signed his 12-year extension (total $105 million) prior to this season’s lockout, and the collective bargaining agreement negotiated in January limits contract length to seven years, expanded to eight years if, like Malkin, players are retained by clubs that already own their contract rights.
Malkin’s cap hit, when it kicks in, will rank second by only a fraction to fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin’s $9.538 million, at least by current numbers. It’s possible someone could sign for more in the meantime, but the only remote possibility would seem to be Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who, like Malkin, has one year left on his existing contract (at a cap hit of $6.875 million). Malkin’s expiring deal carries an $8.7 million cap hit.
Lundqvist is considerably older (31) than the Ovechkin-Crosby-Malkin trio, and goalies traditionally are not the game’s biggest earners. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, with a $7 million cap figure, leads all goalies, tying him for 17th on the overall wage list (all figures according to nhlnumbers.com).
I have never understood why goalies take a backseat at the pay window. They play the most important position on the ice and they don’t work on a shift basis (unless, of course, Mike Keenan happens to be the coach). From a general manager’s perspective, the two most important hires are the coach and the goaltender. Get either one wrong and you’re in for a heap of trouble.
Lundqvist, in the days leading up to John Tortorella’s dismissal as Rangers coach, was noncommittal about extending his stay on Broadway after next season. He could change that stance now with Tortorella sent packing, or he could opt for free agency next July, at which time another club might up the bidding to Ovechkin-Crosby-Malkin territory, perhaps on a shorter-term deal (say, 3-5 years for $30 million or $50 million).
Meanwhile, amid all these numbers, the Bruins in the weeks ahead have to sign franchise goalie Tuukka Rask (now with a $3.5 million cap hit) and likely will look to extend the contract of alternate captain Patrice Bergeron (one year left at a $5 million cap hit). They will not be cheap deals.
Rask, who has jiggled his way into elite goalie status, could see his pay nearly double, perhaps even match Rinne’s $7 million. Rinne, also a Finn, is older (30) and has been a No. 1 goaltender for five years. However, he has never carried the Predators to a Cup Final and he is not surrounded by a cast of young, high-priced talent such as Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin.
Lucic next season moves to a $6 million cap hit, while Seguin advances to $5.75 million. In terms of his importance to the team, Rask, a restricted free agent, easily can use those deals as the floor of his negotiating platform. He also could draw free agent bids, but that’s not where this will go. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli went through that tug of war with Phil Kessel in the summer of 2009 and since then has been proactive in securing his young, core players to long-term deals. He’ll get Rask done, likely with a minimum three-year deal, possibly ahead of the start of free agency on July 5.
Bergeron is actually a more interesting signing. He will be 28 next month, at which time he will be less than a year removed from reaching UFA status. More effective than Malkin or Crosby in the conference finals, he is now among the game’s best faceoff artists and ranks as one of the game’s elite glue guys — pivoting the club’s top four wingers and essential to the power-play and penalty-killing units. Goaltending is about the only thing not on the Bergeron curriculum vitae.
He won’t command Ovechkin-Malkin-Crosby money, but he very well might equal Malkin’s eight-year term, at a pay rate right around team captain Zdeno Chara’s $6.917 million. If that sounds high for a glue guy, again, look at the Lucic/Seguin figures and then consider Bergeron’s worth to the team. He is wrapping up his ninth season and this next deal very well could be his last. An eight-year extension would term out in the spring of 2022, just short of his 37th birthday.
Bergeron is now the longest-serving Bruin on the roster. Chara has been in the league longer, but this is his third franchise. Wade Redden and Jaromir Jagr also predate Bergeron for NHL longevity. But no one has been in service on Causeway Street longer than Bergeron. It’s likely he signs the long-term extension and ultimately retires from NHL duty having only played in a Boston uniform. P.J. Axelsson was the last to play 10 or more years with Boston and retire a pure Bruin. The only other, drafted in the post-expansion era, with such a dossier: Terry O’Reilly.
Clubs looking for new bosses
The coaching merry-go-round is spinning like an out-of-control Denis Savard spin-o-rama now after Edmonton’s surprise decision to dump Ralph Krueger in favor of hot commodity Dallas Eakins. New Oilers GM Craig MacTavish swooped in on Eakins so fast that he ended up having to fire Krueger via Skype (suppose that beats being escorted out of the office by a security guard) before word spread. Krueger was back in Switzerland for the summer.
Meanwhile, here’s who remains in the hunt for a bench boss:
Vancouver — Fired Alain Vigneault. Eakins was on GM Mike Gillis’s shopping list. The front-runner appears to be John Stevens, the ex-Flyers boss (fired early in the 2009-10 season), who has spent the last three years as an assistant in Los Angeles. Gillis wants to begin a roster youth infusion and Stevens has built a reputation on helping young players develop — including the much-improved Drew Doughty on the Kings’ backline. Deposed Rangers coach John Tortorella also has interviewed with Gillis.
Dallas — Fired Glen Gulutzan. Eakins might have been the favorite before the Oilers pounced. Tortorella is expected to interview this week with new GM Jim Nill, and might be the pick because, like Stevens, he has a history of bringing along younger players.
New York Rangers — Fired Tortorella with two years left on his deal, which he signed during the season. GM Glen Sather has made his decision, opting to go with Vigneault. According to several media reports, Vigneault, who had taken his name out of the running for the Dallas opening, agreed on Saturday to take the New York job.
The wild card is Dave Tippett, who just wrapped up his fourth season in Phoenix. With the state of the franchise in such flux, Tippett isn’t sure if he wants to sign an extension. His current deal expires June 30, the day of the draft, and then he becomes an unrestricted free agent with 786 games of bench experience.
Phoenix still a hot topic
Just what is happening with the Coyotes? That was the hottest topic Wednesday when commissioner Gary Bettman held his annual state of the league press conference prior to Game 1 of the Final. Bettman was evasive, though he and deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear that decision hour is fast approaching. If the City of Glendale, home of Jobing.com Arena, doesn’t agree to frame a sweetheart lease/management agreement for a new owner, then the league is expected to move quickly to a sale-and-relocation plan. Bettman refused to name potential landing spots, particularly when reporters asked about the viability of placing a team again in Quebec City. He repeatedly stressed his desire to keep the club in Glendale, while at the same time underscoring how business, including the neighboring NFL Cardinals, would be impacted if Jobing.com were left without its primary tenant. The growing bet around the league is that the franchise moves to Seattle, where local investor Chris Hansen is looking to build a new arena to house NBA and NHL franchises. In the meantime, a club would have to set up shop at Key Arena, which could accommodate only undersized crowds of 11,000. An answer to all of this could come by the end of this month. As Bettman said, “Stuff is going to happen.’’
Mike Milbury and NBC studio sidekick Keith Jones were in Chicago for Games 1 and 2, and on Thursday darted out to Notre Dame to see old pal Jeff Jackson, coach of the Fighting Irish, and check out the state-of-the-art arena on the South Bend, Ind., campus. “What a facility,’’ said Milbury. “They thought of everything, right down to installation of video screens in the dressing room and shaping the room itself like a horseshoe, so everyone is facing the coach when he talks. Really something. Very impressive.’’ The Compton Family Ice Arena opened in October 2011 and was built at a cost of some $50 million. It contains two ice surfaces and the Irish varsity plays on the surface designated the Lefty Smith Rink, in honor of the school’s first hockey coach, Charles W. Smith, Jr.
Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, the ex-Harvard goalie and onetime Bruins goalie consultant, will be running his goaltending school again this summer, trotting out the cages for a 40th year at a number of Eastern Mass. rinks. Never has anyone worked so hard to close a 24-square-foot loophole. For more information, go to bertagnagoaltending.com or write him directly at email@example.com.
The Penguins also added two years to the deals of coach Dan Bylsma and assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden . . . Ex-backup goalie Jim Ralph was let go from the Maple Leafs broadcast booth after 16 years as the club’s radio analyst. He took the high road, tweeting out his appreciation for his time on the job, while joking that the move came because his bosses were looking for a change in his department. “I was just the only one in the department,’’ he wrote . . . No knowing if Dallas Eakins will stick with the assistant coaches on the Oilers’ staff, Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger. If he makes a change, he likely would hire his Marlies aides, Gord Dineen and Derek King, though one of them could be offered the job to take over the Marlies’ bench . . . Following Wednesday night’s triple-OT game in Chicago, Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa said he was awakened early by a neighbor who decided it was a good day to do some drilling. “Not pleasant,’’ noted Hossa. Word from a downtown Sears was that Shawn Thornton was seen earlier that morning in the Craftsman tools section . . . The Canucks have decided to own and operate the AHL Utica franchise. As old pal John Shannon of Rogers Sportsnet points out, Utica is 2,288 miles from Vancouver. OK, it’s a hike. But if the object is to have players itching to get out of the minors, Utica is not a bad place to start . . . NHL free agency is only 19 days away . . . Best wishes to longtime pal Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal, recovering from a nasty bike spill that left him with a compound fracture of the elbow. He had the misfortune of a rabbit trying to dart through the spokes of his bike’s front wheel . . . For a huge state-of-the-art building, the United Center lighting is quite dim, casting a yellowish hue over the ice surface. The Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has the brightest, cleanest lighting of any of the NHL’s 30 rinks . . . Congrats to longtime pals Jay Greenberg and Harry Neale, both of whom will be honorees in November when the Hall of Fame adds to its respective media divisions for the spoken and written word. Neale, the ex-Vancouver coach, has had a long career as TV color commentator/analyst in Canada and the US. Greenberg made his bones as a beat reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News and in more recent years was a New York Post columnist. In their distinct styles, they’ve blended hockey with humor, true treats for both their viewers and readers . . . Next up for the Penguins, of course, will be trying to extend the contract of their top point man, Kris Letang, who still has one year left at $3.5 million. He’s probably looking at Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson (cap hit: $6.5 million) as a comparable on a deal of 4-5 years . . . Adam Proteau of The Hockey News tweeted last week about a 100-year-old shipwreck discovered at the bottom of Lake Superior, noting, “Most valuable treasure on board: a Jaromir Jagr rookie card.’’ . . . The Islanders are under contract to play two more seasons at Nassau Coliseum, prior to moving to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, there are no fewer than four bidders, including MSG, to redevelop the small, outdated facility. MSG’s rework would include an Islanders-themed bar named “The Sports Zone.’’