’Tis the season to admit mistakes.
Then make new ones. Whoppers, maybe.
That’s what happens in the NHL around now when teams look to buy out contracts that are salary cap millstones around their neck, and then often go out and create new millstones for themselves through free agency.
This year, with such a seemingly weak free agent class, you’d think the mistakes that lead to buyouts will be minimized. Then you see Colorado give Carl Soderberg that money and you imagine that Wednesday’s opening day of free agency could see all kinds of money thrown at players simply because they are available without having to be acquired via trade.
It will be fascinating to see what kind of money is offered to players like Mike Green, Antoine Vermette and Matt Beleskey. Some GMs, however, think agents and players better be ready to make very quick decisions before the money dries up.
“The money that’s there on July 1st may not be there a few days later,” said one GM.
Interestingly, the Bruins and Rangers made decisions on the weekend to avoid tying themselves to long-term contracts they deemed excessive by moving Dougie Hamilton and Carl Hagelin, respectively. In other words, both teams demonstrated it’s still possible to say, “No.”
Other weekend takeaways:
— Most people believe the Kings will bounce back next season after missing the playoffs, and adding Milan Lucic should help. Still, it’s worth remembering that L.A. gave up its first round pick (No. 13) to get Lucic, and has already surrendered its first round pick next season in another strong draft year. That was sent to Carolina at the trade deadline for defenceman Andrej Sekera, who the Kings have now decided not to sign.
As Pittsburgh has found out, these short-term decisions add up over time.
— After the Lucic trade, Boston now has wealth in goal in the form of Tuukka Rask, Martin Jones and Malcolm Subban, plus unsigned collegian Zane McIntyre.
Somebody’s going, and that somebody may be going to San Jose. The fact GM Don Sweeney didn’t make much of a dent in the team’s salary cap problem despite moving Hamilton and Lucic – the B’s retained salary on Lucic – makes you wonder if Rask and his $7 million cap hit might be the masked man who moves.
— The Leafs went for skill throughout draft weekend even when it came in small packages like Mitch Marner, Jeremy Bracco and Dmytro Timashov. Interestingly, they in effect passed three times on shifty but controversial Charlottetown winger Daniel Sprong at No. 24 (they traded down), at No. 29 (traded down again) and No. 34 (took defenceman Travis Dermott) before Sprong went to Pittsburgh later in the second round.
Assistant GM Kyle Dubas took time out during the Memorial Cup to travel from Quebec City to Montreal and interview both Sprong and his family. You wonder if he just didn’t like what he heard.
— On Marner, he’s got all the talent in the world to make it big, the latest in a long line of smallish London forwards drafted high with that kind of elite skill set. The question as one observer put it, however, is; will he be Patrick Kane or Sam Gagner?
— Chicago, you’d think, has to start moving on making the decisions necessary to get its payroll in shape to accommodate the contract extensions of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp next season, a process started in a small way by moving backup goalie Antti Raanta to the Rangers on Saturday.
Here’s another tricky salary related dynamic to watch with the Stanley Cup champs. Playoff MVP Duncan Keith will be working for years to come on an undervalued contract that comes with a cap hit of $5.538 million, very useful to Chicago. But as he makes $26.5 million over the next five seasons, he will labour knowing Toews and Kane are on the same bench, each making $63 million in cash over the same period of time, more than double Keith’s earnings. That would be hard on any player, but especially so for a workhorse like Keith.
— Washington was the team that took the leap and drafted Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov with the 22nd pick on Friday. Detroit, however, almost beat the Caps to the punch. If Cape Breton winger Evgeny Svechnikov hadn’t been there at No. 19, the Wings would have grabbed Samsonov.
— The biggest reach in the first round on Friday had to be Boston going for Sault Ste. Marie winger Zach Senyshyn with the No. 14 selection. Senyshyn was ranked No. 38 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
Factor in goalies and Euros, and that should have placed Senyshyn late in the second round. Boston thought differently and it’ll be a while before we find out if they were right.
— The biggest fall from grace in the draft was experienced by stylish Swedish defenceman Oliver Kylington, who was seen as a likely top five pick this time last year and was the top-ranked European prospect last fall. He went 60th overall to Calgary.
Many teams passed because they didn’t like his interview and heard more than a few of his countrymen diss him during their prospect interviews.
— You can understand that many will find the trade that sent Chris Pronger’s contract to Arizona on Saturday rather distasteful, exploiting a loophole that will help get the Flyers out of salary cap jail. But when a loophole benefits the least stable team in the league (the Coyotes) in the same way it did when the NHL’s most valuable team, the Maple Leafs, traded David Clarkson for Nathan Horton, at least it’s a loophole that can work for one and all.
— In theory, Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford can choose between Sharp, Phil Kessel, Jeff Skinner, T.J. Oshie and free agent Martin St. Louis as he searches for a new offensive piece to fit with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeny Malkin.
Having already spent a first rounder on David Perron with mixed results, Rutherford really needs to make a very good choice this time, and all those mentioned above come with different levels of risk.
He’s got four promising young defencemen in Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington and Derrick Pouliot, and he’s said often all four won’t likely play at once for the Penguins.
Sharp would be the most direct fit. Kessel and Skinner could offer the best opportunities to move problematic contracts like Chris Kunitz, Brandon Sutter or Rob Scuderi. Oshie comes with lots of skill but with a cap hit that doesn’t match his production. And St. Louis would be free as a UFA.
— Here’s the most impressive thing about what new Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli did on the weekend. He added necessary pieces in goalie Cam Talbot and two young defencemen in Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba, but did so without touching his cadre of young stars that includes Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle, Leon Draisatl and Darnell Nurse. Which means he still has lots of cards to play.
— The Hamilton deal was an aggressive play by a Calgary team that is clearly out of the rebuilding mode faster than anyone would have imagined last fall.
The threat of an offer sheet helped put the 22-year-old Hamilton on the market, and the price to get him (one first and two seconds) was slightly more than the compensation that would have been sent to Boston if another team had signed him as an RFA and they had chosen not to match.
It’s similar in some ways to the way in which another Brian Burke team, the Maple Leafs, used the threat of an offer sheet to pry 21-year-old Phil Kessel away from the Bruins in 2009 with two firsts (one of which turned out to be Hamilton) and a second. It backfired on Toronto when they crashed and burned the next season and Boston ended up with Tyler Seguin.
The same threat is now there for Calgary, although the Flames are much, much further along the developmental path now than the Leafs were in ’09 and already have a formidable core group.
— One more thing on the Bruins. Why is it players drafted high there who subsequently are shipped elsewhere always seemed to be badmouthed as bad people on the way out? Happened with Joe Thornton, happened with Kessel, happened with Seguin, quietly happening with Hamilton.