The games are over, but the fun isn’t.
This week the NHL descends on two vacation hotbeds as the focus switches from on-ice performance to off-ice maneuverings. In Las Vegas, the general managers, presidents and Board of Governors meet Tuesday and Wednesday, before the awards are handed out Wednesday night.
Then, the shift to Florida, where the free-agency interview period begins Thursday, with the draft dominating Friday and Saturday. It’s going to be busy and crazy. I’ll be making up even more stuff than usual.
I’ll get into some of the player movement below. There are so many possibilities, and always something we don’t see coming. Other than that, the biggest wildcard this week will be expansion.
No one is expecting a new franchise to be awarded. But there’s going to be a conversation about opening the process. Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this season he could see a $500 million fee. If we’re talking two teams, that’s tough to turn down, especially since this cash isn’t shared with the players. They do benefit in another way, at least 46 new jobs created. That definitely will appeal to them.
There are negatives: adding teams (there is some wariness, although it’s tough to tell how much) and the strength of certain markets that would bid. Both the NHL and the Coyotes are confident about their case against Glendale in court, but until you know, you can’t be certain. Does that change things in any way?
From my home office, it looks like the league has two choices. The first is to pass. Simply say, “We aren’t ready. This isn’t the time.” What makes more sense is the second option: formally ask to see who is interested, with no guarantees.
The NHL could easily tell interested bidders/cities to step forward by a certain date. We know Las Vegas will be in. We know Quebec City will be in. Are you, Portland? Ok, Seattle/Washington, we know there are a few different possibilities. Which one can guarantee an arena, and when? Is there an owner in Kansas City? Is there anyone willing to champion a second team in Toronto, even if it plays out of the Air Canada Centre — a la Los Angeles?
Who really wants a team? And, of that group, who can really do it? This is the best chance of answering those questions.
The benefit for the NHL is it doesn’t have to guarantee anything. This is not a, “We will expand.” This is a, “Convince us to expand.” In the end, if it doesn’t work, walk away.
1. As of Saturday, still no word on what overtime format the GMs are scheduled to vote on for next season. Both they and the players would like a change, and one is expected. The GMs prefer the AHL method that starts at four-on-four, eventually dropping one skater per team — while the NHLPA prefers three-on-three from the get-go, with the extra period remaining at five minutes. There was supposed to be some additional polling of the players to see if the AHL way would be acceptable. There’s been enough debate about both ideas that no one I spoke to seems too concerned there isn’t a final decision yet.
2. The Maple Leafs sent out a communiqué last week indicating any team wanting to talk trade should go through assistant GM Kyle Dubas. This led to speculation maybe Dubas would be elevated to the full-time GM position, but that appears premature. Director of player personnel Mark Hunter is responsible for draft selections, so it doesn’t look like Toronto wanted to add another 72-ounce Lone Star steak to his plate. What it does say, though, is Brendan Shanahan really trusts Dubas. That’s big responsibility at this time in the franchise’s existence.
3. Toronto’s let it be known it will take salary back for Phil Kessel, but there is a limit. It’s got to be less (in term and value) than Kessel’s. The Maple Leafs are more interested in prospects and draft picks, but recognize that alone won’t get a deal done. Since the idea is to help create cap flexibility, it doesn’t make sense to receive a similar contract in return.
As for smaller moves, the organization traded Greg McKegg in the deal for unsigned (as of now) college free agent Zach Hyman. Other AHLers are available, including the likes of defenceman Andrew MacWilliam, heading into his third year as a pro.
4. Toronto will continue to negotiate a new contract with Jonathan Bernier, but it was an aggressive move to file for club-elected salary arbitration. They are sending a message there will be no dispute lasting into next season. There’s nothing wrong with taking a one-year deal heading into free agency and betting on yourself, but another exec made a good point: if the Maple Leafs really do strip it down, that’s tough for a goalie. Difficult to be successful in those circumstances. What’s Toronto offering with term? An average annual value of $4M, maybe?
5. As for the goalie market, there may be an unexpected wrinkle. Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher told The Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo that he will meet with Devan Dubnyk Tuesday and agent Mike Liut Wednesday. The free-agency courting period begins Thursday. Dubnyk and the Wild are a perfect fit, but, if it doesn’t get done before other teams can talk to him, all it takes is one to send things sideways. How interested is San Jose, for example? And, if the Wild need to look elsewhere, that means extra competition for those teams seeking to fill the position.
6. Whatever happens with Dubnyk, no one would be surprised if the Wild go for a goalie or two in the draft. It’s an organizational need. Same for Philadelphia. Expectation is the Flyers are interested in bolstering that position.
7. As for Cam Talbot, the toughest thing preventing the Rangers from getting the best possible price for him is that he’s on a one-year contract with free agency beckoning. Under CBA rules, he cannot be extended until Jan. 1, 2016. If teams knew they could do it in July, you could get permission to talk to him and have an idea of what you’re looking at. That’s not possible. He’s still good value. But this gives the acquiring team less control.
8. Ducks GM Bob Murray wouldn’t comment, but word is he’s getting other GMs asking if the way the Western Conference final ended changed his long-term feeling about Frederik Andersen. Whatever the case, the cost would be steep, since the Ducks don’t need to address the Andersen/John Gibson contract situation for another year.
9. Quote from a GM that made me think this week: “Who in the West is going to trade with each other?”
10. A perfect example of that would be Vancouver. The Canucks are surrounded by teams that are a fit for Eddie Lack, in particular. He’d be useful for Calgary, Edmonton or San Jose but would Jim Benning want to help any of them? I doubt it. I’ve referenced it before, but hours prior to Cory Schneider’s trade to New Jersey, the Canucks and Oilers talked about it, with Vancouver wanting a first-rounder, a second-rounder and Martin Marincin. A team in their division was going to pay a higher price than the Devils. Different regime now, but can’t imagine the philosophy easing at all.
11. Newsday’s Arthur Staple reported Saturday night Islanders’ forward Kyle Okposo may be on the trade block. That was the first I heard of Okposo, but it’s indicative of what is happening out there. There are a lot of prominent names getting thrown around/asked about. We throw around words like “shopped,” and “available,” but a fairer way of describing it might be “tested.” I think there’s a lot of that going on, with GMs discussing certain players (or asking about them), just to see what nibbles they get.
12. One of the biggest is Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly. I listened to the Joe Sakic/Patrick Roy conference call last week and heard Sakic re-iterate how much they want to keep him, but won’t allow the distraction to drag into next season. What I didn’t consider at the time, and thought of later, is there is a new addition to the process — recently hired assistant GM Chris MacFarland. For all the battles O’Reilly and the Avalanche have had, MacFarland’s involvement is zero. Sakic and Roy know how hard it is to find players of his quality. Can a fresh face make a difference at the negotiating table?
13. Follow-up to that thought: Sakic said the Avalanche have to be careful in free agency, because new contracts are upcoming for Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson and Nathan MacKinnon. If they can sign O’Reilly, does another higher-salaried player have to go?
14. Two other players getting asked about are Milan Lucic and Jeff Skinner. When I asked Boston GM Don Sweeney about Lucic a couple of weeks ago, he called the winger a “foundational player,” and I don’t think that’s changed (Sweeney declined to discuss this situation on Saturday). But, as another GM put it, “If you’re not listening, you’re not doing your job.” When there were rumours about his availability last season (which Boston shot down), there was definite interest. From outside, Lucic’s future seems like an incredibly complex internal discussion for the Bruins. He is what their identity is supposed to be. He makes $6 million now. What’s the next number?
15. Skinner’s name is out there, I think, because, unlike some of his teammates, he does not have no-trade protection. His cap hit is $5.725M. He’s 23, one year removed from a 33-goal season. Health is a concern, but he has played 190 of Carolina’s past 212 games. You can see why other teams would query. Former GM Jim Rutherford did explore the market on Skinner at least once.
16. Another Hurricane rumour is the club would consider packaging Alexander Semin with the fifth overall pick to get his contract off the books. History suggests that is very unlikely. Last year, Calgary said it would acquire Cam Ward as long as the seventh selection was included with it. GM Ron Francis declined. As much as the organization would love to move Semin, this draft pick is way too important to give away in a salary dump. It’s got to be a significant, legit hockey trade if at all.
17. It doesn’t seem like there is much common ground at this point between Los Angeles and Justin Williams.
18. Florida GM Dale Tallon announced last week the Panthers would not re-sign forward Scottie Upshall. Hearing Upshall would be willing to take a one-year contract with a contending team.
19. College UFA Mike Reilly shortened his list, although the exact teams are uncertain. Most think it’s Chicago, Los Angeles and Minnesota. A couple clubs wondered about Pittsburgh. Reilly does train with Andy O’Brien, and the defenceman talked with another of O’Brien’s clients, Sidney Crosby, when the two crossed paths in California. The Kings may not offer as clear a path to the NHL as the others. One source said Reilly’s history with Edmonton CEO Bob Nicholson (and the defensive issues there) kept them in it longer than expected, but the odds were not in their favour.
20. With Arizona needing some positive news in the market, will the Coyotes take a shot at bringing back Antoine Vermette from the Stanley Cup champions? When he was traded, that possibility was floated. The big issue beforehand was term, as Vermette will be 33 next month. He liked it there, too.
21. If you know a centre who can shop at big-and-tall suit stores, chances are Montreal has looked at him.
22. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman called re-signing Steven Stamkos his No. 1 priority. He’s got one year left before unrestricted free agency. For all the debate about his future, go back and watch his media scrum after Tampa lost Game 6 of the Final. He’s crushed and calls the last two months a waste because they didn’t win. Stamkos is friendly and calm, but he is fiercely competitive. He’ll be 26 in February. Wherever his career takes him, can it really be someplace he’s unlikely to win while still in his prime?
23. Could Stamkos and Victor Hedman have the highest cap hit of any two teammates in 2017?
24. One agent asked an interesting question: if you took all of the players Chicago had to drop from its Cup-winning clubs, how good a team would it be today? In goal, Antti Niemi would be backed up by Ray Emery or Carter Hutton. Lots of forwards: Dave Bolland, Brandon Bollig, Troy Brouwer, Adam Burish, Michael Frolik, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, Andrew Ladd, Brandon Pirri, Ben Smith, Viktor Stalberg and Kris Versteeg (although he returned). Defence will need a couple more bodies, but there’s a good start with Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell, Nick Leddy and Ryan Stanton. That doesn’t even count whoever goes now.
25. The Blackhawks are asking a lot for their best pieces. Some teams will try to wait them out, for sure. The prices may drop. But, what Stan Bowman knows is the more the prices drop, more contenders enter the race for a player or players. He’s hoping someone decides they need a Patrick Sharp or whoever and moves to ensure it happens.
26. Was fascinating to watch Joel Quenneville manipulate Patrick Kane through the lineup in the second period of Game 6. From 8:48 to 17:13, Kane had seven shifts. They lasted 0:16, 0:29, 0:44, 0:38, 0:09, 0:39 and 0:29. The nine-second shift ended because Hedman came on the ice, and Quenneville pulled Kane. That separated the two. The last of those shifts ended with Duncan Keith’s Cup-winning goal. Kane snared an assist.
27. The sexy talk of an offer sheet in Chicago is Brandon Saad, but the more attainable player might be Marcus Kruger. He won’t cost as much, but enough to further disrupt their situation. He’s so good at what he does. Depth is king now, and Kruger would be a critical part of it for any team.
28. During one show this season, Kelly Hrudey and I were discussing some of the goaltending analytics. He made it very clear only one stat mattered to him. Wins. I’ve always understood why Kelly feels that way, but, once again, it was hammered home watching Corey Crawford in the playoffs. From an analytical point of view, his contract doesn’t make sense. But, to a player like Hrudey, Crawford does the most important thing. He wins. It is hard to win, really damn hard. And he’s done it twice now. Yes, he’s on a great team, but how many great teams were undone by goaltending?
When players doubt analytics, Crawford is a perfect example of why. They don’t care how he gets there, they care only that he’s the guy standing at the end. His coach benched him and called him out — several times. He still wins. He passes difficult test after difficult test. That’s why it is such a challenge to convince ex-players about these numbers. You tell them Crawford’s contract is bad. All they see is a guy with two rings. They don’t ask you how. They ask you how many.
29. It was an under-the-radar move, but Nashville signed a defenceman named Kristian Nakyva last month. He had a strong year in the Swedish Elite League, second-leading scorer on Lulea. He’s 23-years old, not the most physical guy, but a good skater and puck-mover. The test will be how he adjusts to North America, but one scout (who liked Nakyva) was surprised he’d sign there considering the Predators are loaded on the blueline. If he makes a good transition, it will be interesting to see what that allows the Predators to do.
30. An update from last week: mentioned the interest from Toronto and Philadelphia in Kim Dillabaugh, who runs goaltender development for the Kings. You can add Arizona to that list. Could also see the Coyotes having interest in Jon Elkin, who is Mike Smith’s personal teacher in the off-season. Toronto also interviewed Pierre Groulx, formerly Montreal’s man. With all the changes in Edmonton, have to wonder what the future is there, too.