The most asked question in NHL circles last weekend was, “What’s going to happen with their cap?”
The Los Angeles Kings reached a settlement with Mike Richards, ending the grievance process with a player whose contract was terminated. While bits and pieces have leaked, the exact salary cap repercussions have yet to be shared with the other teams.
But here’s what we do know:
If the Kings had bought out Richards last summer, he would have stayed on their payroll until the end of the 2024-25 season. The cap hit would move from approximately $1.2M this season to $1.7M next year, followed by $2.7M in 2017-18 and a two-season peak of $4.2M in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Then it would stay just under $1.5M for the final five seasons.
With the agreement, Richards’ cash lasts until the end of 2030-31 campaign. As part of a cap-recapture penalty due to decreasing dollar values towards the end of his contract, the Kings lose $1.32M from their cap this year — and the next four — with the settlement amount added to that total. Starting in 2020-21, the team’s only penalty is the settlement itself — and that’s not a high number, believed to be somewhere in the $550,000 per season range on average.
The year-to-year totals apparently vary. That’s huge cap relief for the Kings, especially when you consider his hit was to be $5.75M this year because they did not buy him out.
Privately, other teams are screaming bloody murder and are threatening to make an issue about it at December’s Board of Governors’ meeting. But the NHL is not sympathetic. In a phone conversation, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly pointed out Article 50 of the CBA does have a mechanism for settlements.
“In our view, the Kings had a ‘Bona Fide’ opportunity to win this grievance,” Daly said. “In that case, they would have no cap hit at all. This way, there’s some penalty.”
You can dispute the merits of Daly’s argument, but when an arbitrator gets involved, all bets are off. All summer, I read how courts don’t like to overrule collective bargaining agreements between two parties. That didn’t stop the NFL from getting crushed by Tom Brady. So, who knows?
Richards hasn’t spoken yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he pushed for the settlement. No one had more to lose than he did. If the NHLPA loses, everyone who argues for him still gets paid. If the Kings lose, yes the cap takes a hit, but owner Philip Anschutz is still worth $11.6 Billion, according to Forbes.
If Richards loses, he gets nothing. It’s easy to say, “Hey, you’ve got a good case,” when it’s not your money. I understand why he’d want it for peace of mind.
The agents weren’t thrilled either.
“What’s to stop other teams from trying this?” one asked. The NHLPA did get, in writing, assurances the Richards grievance could not be used as precedent in any future cases.
That’s important language. But, we did cross new ground here. Are other clubs saying, “If they did it, we can too?”
1. Richards’ next court date is Dec. 8, so his future remains unclear. But he is an unrestricted free agent, and there is interest. He doesn’t turn 31 until February and it was his contract — not his play — that prevented other clubs from taking him. It’s believed the Kings were offering two or three prospects (Jordan Weal likely among them) to the Calgary Flames and/or Edmonton Oilers as incentive to acquire him before the arrest. Richards will have suitors should the time come.
2. Richards, his agency (Newport) and the NHLPA were very unhappy with Dean Lombardi’s comments to The Los Angeles Times, but chose not to throw gasoline on the fire with a statement of their own. No doubt they were angry it happened while legal proceedings continue. The GM stayed on the sidelines as Kings Vice-President of Hockey Operations and Legal Affairs Jeff Solomon handled the negotiations. In a sport full of emotional people, Lombardi may be most emotional of all. When the Kings won the Cup in 2014, his on-ice interaction with the players was easily the most intense I’d ever seen between an executive and a championship team. The pride he conveyed to them was really something. When he traded for Richards, he passionately defended the player against any character-related questions. To his credit, Lombardi accepted a lot of blame for things that happened with his players over the past year, so this was a jarring change. His biggest concern out of this: do Richards’ ex-teammates react negatively to it?
3. In the aftermath of Rick Westhead’s story on cocaine use in the NHL, the league and NHLPA is considering the following change to drug testing: right now, there are 2,400 tests for performance-enhancing drugs. Only one-third (800) are also screened for recreational drugs. The idea is to make the rest eligible for such testing, as well.
4. No comment from Steve Yzerman, but there a few rumours the Tampa Bay Lightning are working on a contract extension for head coach Jon Cooper. He was hired March 25, 2013, so the timing makes sense.
5. On the Anaheim broadcast of Monday’s Vancouver Canucks vs. Anaheim Ducks game, Commissioner Gary Bettman made his most emphatic statement yet that there will be no expansion for the 2016-17 season. Asked by Brian Hayward if there was a chance Las Vegas or Quebec City could be in the the NHL next season, Bettman replied, “No, no possibility at all.”
6. Comcast Sportsnet’s Joe Haggerty added some spice to holiday Monday meals with a report that the Boston Bruins could begin shopping Zdeno Chara and/or Brad Marchand should things not improve. Part of me wonders if this is an attempt to light a fire under the players. Marchand, out with a concussion, has a modified no-trade clause, with one year remaining. Chara has two more seasons to go, and a full no-move. I could never pin it down, but I do think at least one team asked about him last season, only to be rebuffed. I have zero evidence Boston’s ever asked him to consider it, and don’t believe it’s occurred. Anyone can get traded, but, as the team turns over its roster to younger players, is it wise to move out someone who sets a great example by taking such care of himself?
7. If a Chara deal ever did happen, I’d love to see him with the Lightning. That would be quite a match. They like to play fast, but they checked out Roman Polak last season, so are interested in something a little different. But I’ve got no idea how they could make it work under the cap. Same with the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s another team Chara could positively impact, but has difficult contract permutations. Edmonton could certainly handle it and Peter Chiarelli loves him. But can anyone see the Bruins making that deal?
8. If Boston could move anyone, you’d think it would be Loui Eriksson. His contract is done at the end of the season.
9. In his first game of the season, Chara played 21:27. That included just 40 seconds of power play time, third among Boston defencemen behind Torey Krug (3:04) and Colin Miller (0:56). This will be the item to watch. I could see the Bruins wanting to rest him another minute or so per game, and the power play is the best place to do that. Chara has immense pride. He wants to be out there in all situations.
10. Boston’s search for defence is well-documented, and teams undoubtedly called the Carolina Hurricanes after James Wisniewski went down last week. But both teams are letting it be known they will not make nonsensical moves for short-term stopgap fixes.
11. Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray is of the same mindset. Even with Robin Lehner out, the Sabres have zero need to make a silly trade for a goalie who either costs too much or doesn’t really help. Murray said Saturday night he’s going to let Chad Johnson have a run, and the netminder responded with 22 saves in Monday’s 4-2 win over Columbus. What could make this interesting is the readiness of 22-year-old Linus Ullmark. He’s a good prospect coming off double-hip surgery who made 38 saves in his North American debut Saturday for AHL Rochester. If Buffalo decides he’s ready for a look, the goaltending future in Western New York has potential to change.
12. I really don’t like to comment on people’s conditioning, because no one’s done a worse job staying in shape for most of the last 25 years than me. Lehner’s 2014-15 season ended with a concussion, and he was not ready for this year. I did not get the opportunity to discuss this with Murray, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if that contributed to the injury. The Sabres are very excited about hiring Oliver Finlay as director of player performance. Getting Lehner sorted out is a major priority.
13. There were rumours Nikita Nikitin would leave the Oilers’ organization to go back to Russia. Doesn’t sound like that’s the plan. He didn’t play last Friday for AHL Bakersfield, but that was a work visa problem that should be sorted out this week.
14. One opponent on Sidney Crosby, shotless in his first two games of the season: “He is not taking pucks inside with a shoot mentality because he is looking to feed Phil Kessel.” Not a surprise that Crosby would be trying to make Kessel comfortable. No doubt the Pittsburgh Penguins try to make him more a little more selfish.
15. One thing you could definitely notice in Connor McDavid’s second game: Benoit Pouliot was looking for him. Moved alongside the first overall selection, Pouliot clearly understood that getting the puck to McDavid in transition might be Edmonton’s best offensive play. Even against stout defenders like the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, his speed caused trouble even if outnumbered. Against the Predators, he turns this two-on-three into a chance:
16. The McDavid/Taylor Hall pairing lasted 50 minutes, but in a season of experimentation, you wonder if Todd McLellan will try it again. Both players like to carry the puck, and here are two examples where Hall could have fed his linemate but didn’t do it in time.
After that second example, the two were split up. They may not be in sync now, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. And, if I’m the Oilers, I’m committing to an extended partnership, because your two best offensive players must learn to work with each other.
17. Two other things about McDavid. First, he does not cheat. He’s constantly watching the front of his net defensively. Second, beware when carrying the puck. Three times in the first 10 minutes in St. Louis, he knocked it off an opponent’s stick. Those will turn into opportunities.
18. In a conversation last week, Henrik Zetterberg confirmed (sort of) a story I’d heard about him. In 2013, as the Detroit Red Wings scraped to prolong their two-decade playoff streak, word was that, down the stretch, he launched into a passionate, slightly profane speech during a team meeting, basically saying that missing the postseason “was not going to happen on my watch.”
“I didn’t use the language you described,” he said last Thursday. “But I didn’t want to be on the team that missed the playoffs. The standard that was set by the players before me. Stevie [Yzerman], Nick [Lidstrom], [Kris] Draper, [Chris] Chelios. Playing with them, I learned how much it meant. I wanted the new guys to know it matters.” Zetterberg revealed it happened before the final game of the season, a must-win in Dallas. Detroit shut out the Stars, 3-0.
19. I can certainly understand a bit of Mike Babcock fatigue in the days after his return to Detroit, but Zetterberg had some insight that should be shared.
“When Mike came in, his preparation changed our approach to the game. It made us better. We had five great years, always among the best … won a Stanley Cup. Mike thinks hockey 24/7 and wants his players to be the same. Then, we went into transition mode. New players. And other teams started doing what we were doing. It seemed like we were playing against ourselves at both ends of the ice.” Zetterberg agrees with the theory that for everyone involved, there is no need to be bitter, all needed a fresh start.
20. Last summer, Jeff Blashill said he wanted to play Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk together to force Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar into taking ownership of their lines. (The captain said he agreed with the coach’s thinking on this one.) Last Saturday, the Red Wings were getting speed-bagged in Carolina when the new coach put Tatar with Dylan Larkin and Teemu Pulkkinen. Pulkkinen scored twice to lead a comeback victory. On-air, Mickey Redmond wondered if that trio could be Detroit’s triplets. Blashill has a reputation for not liking to change lines too quickly. Guess a little flexibility can go a long way.
21. The Tennessean’s Adam Vingan had a note about Cody Hodgson going to Sweden to learn some different skating techniques. For years, he’s worked with Dawn Braid, an excellent teacher who helped John Tavares to new heights. Before the summer, Claude Lemieux, one of his agents, told him, “The best guy in the world is in Sweden, do you want to see him?”
“Why not?” Hodgson replied.
“The three weeks were so helpful that I stayed for three more,” Hodgson said last Thursday in an interview. He actually worked with two instructors: a former speedskater named Andreas Larsson and a biomechanics expert, Peter Froberg. He explained how they changed his workouts on and off the ice to re-calibrate his “firing patterns.”
“The ankles, the joints, it was all about repetition to get it ingrained in your muscle memory,” he said. He didn’t want to get too specific, but between working with Gary Roberts and going to Sweden, Hodgson overhauled almost everything to turn around his career.
22. I’m a huge Howard Stern guy. Whenever someone is going through a difficult time, I relay a story he tells after being fired from WNBC in New York. Stern and his crew were sitting devastated in their office when his agent, Don Buchwald, walked in with a huge smile and a bottle of champagne. He told them they were wrong, this would turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to them. A few hundred million or so later, that turned out to be bang-on. Hodgson laughed at that story, then credited his uncle, Andrew, who told him, “Sometimes the best things come out of life’s disappointments.”
23. Predators fans wonder about new contracts for Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones, both worthy of raises. (All GM David Poile would say a week ago is that some talks have happened.) But another interesting case is Mattias Ekholm. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, and unrestricted in one year. Under the radar, but a key member of the NHL’s deepest blueline.
24. Peter Horachek is back in Fort Lauderdale, recovering from having both knees replaced. Like Hodgson, he’s working to forget the disappointment of 2014-15, and looking forward to new challenges somewhere else.
“I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘This will be a great year for you.’ They told me to take some time away, do something I’ve never done before, think back, learn from it and move on.” he said.
He’s still under contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs so he has time. In addition to the surgery, he’s planning a Christmas trip with his wife — something he hasn’t had the opportunity to do.
What would he do over if he could?
“What I learned was you have to spend more time trying to communicate with the rest of the organization on what our short-term and long-term goals are. Where are we going and how do we plan to get there? Mike Babcock has a plan. He knows where he wants to be in three weeks, where he wants to be in four-to-five years. What I would do differently is spend more time with Randy [Carlyle], Dave [Nonis], [Brendan] Shanahan, Kyle [Dubas] asking, ‘What is our expectation with these players?’ Spend more time trying to define our identity. Force that out of the situation.”
25. Asked who really impressed him in a difficult season, Horachek named three players.
Polak didn’t dress the first two games and Robidas is off the roster. Winnik is back and scored a big goal versus the Ottawa Senators. Who is going to step up and set the example?
26. Steve Fellin, who runs the SportsnetStats Twitter feed, pointed out Toronto has allowed a goal on the first shot in 12 of its last 85 games. That’s once every seven times you play — way too much. Jonathan Bernier was beaten by Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty on the first shot of the first game, Justin Abdelkader on the first shot of the second game against the Red Wings, and Larkin on the first shot of the second period of that same game. (He was then yanked.) Curtis Joseph wrote by email that when he struggled early, he would take the entire warmup to “trick himself” into more of a mid-game mindset. Whatever Bernier needs to do, it better be quick.
27. Matt O’Connor made his first NHL start on Sunday, a 3-1 loss to Montreal. Under goalie coach Rick Wamsley, O’Connor is making some changes to his style. The biggest adjustment is where he holds his blocker. O’Connor is a tall man, and Wamsley pointed out a huge hole between his chest and right arm when outstretched. NHL shooters will find it, constantly. It is to be held closer to his body. O’Connor is also being asked to play more in the middle of the net, but the blocker move is priority.
28. Alex Galchenyuk has no desire to discuss how he may be Montreal’s “X-factor” for 2015-16.
“I don’t want to read any of that stuff,” he said last week. As his transition to a full-time centre begins, he’s going to be shielded a bit. Michel Therrien, asked if he would consider uniting him with Pacioretty, said he didn’t want to do it yet, because it means playing against top-line defensive pairs. The coach feels Galchenyuk needs more time to get comfortable before being exposed to that. Against Toronto, Pacioretty faced Matt Hunwick/Dion Phaneuf, while Galchenyuk saw Martin Marincin/Morgan Rielly (at even strength). Against Boston, Pacioretty got Torey Krug/Adam McQuaid; it was Matt Irwin, Kevan Miller or Joe Morrow for Galchenyuk. Both lines saw mostly Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch in Ottawa.
29. Very interesting three-on-three strategy from Calgary last Saturday in Vancouver. The Flames started the overtime period with one forward and two defencemen. With the puck in the Canucks’ zone, Johnny Gaudreau came off the bench for Dougie Hamilton. With a face-off in the Calgary end, they went back to two blueliners. When Kris Russell gained possession and slowly brought it up ice, coach Bob Hartley switched one forward and one defenceman for two forwards. Russell later changed for Dennis Wideman, who made a game-saving play before Gaudreau won it. In-play line changes during three-on-three can be an adventure even before these machinations. It was impressive the Flames didn’t make any mistakes, but that will be a delicate juggling act.
30. Check out what the Ducks did for Kai Quinonez at their home opener:
If this doesn’t get to you, you have no soul.