31 Thoughts: How Golden Knights won the Mark Stone sweepstakes

Ottawa Senators head coach Guy Boucher discusses why now more than ever his club can't look past today, just play hockey, and don't concern yourself with anything in the future.

• Where do the Senators go from here?
• Wayne Simmonds almost became a Winnipeg Jet
• Maple Leafs hope Jake Gardiner can avoid back surgery

A good chunk of this week’s post-deadline blog will be about Ottawa. First up, we tackle the question: How are the Senators getting to the salary floor in 2019–20?

The current floor is $58.8 million, with a cap of $79.5 million. The estimate for next season is $83 million, so you can expect the low-end to be around $62 to $63 million. Both CapFriendly and Puck Pedia list the Senators at just over $44 million in commitments for next year. That includes Marian Gaborik and Clarke MacArthur (both on long-term injured reserve), Mike Condon (in the AHL) and the retained money on Dion Phaneuf’s contract. 

Assuming everyone under contract returns (Ron Howard voice: that never happens), Ottawa’s upcoming lineup features Rudolfs Balcers, Mikkel Boedker, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Bobby Ryan, Zack Smith, Chris Tierney and Brady Tkachuk at forward; Mark Borowiecki, Thomas Chabot, Dylan DeMelo, Ben Harpur and Christian Jaros on defence; and Craig Anderson in goal.

Vitaly Abramov, Drake Batherson, newly-acquired Erik Brannstrom, Logan Brown, Filip Chlapik, Alex Formenton and Maxime Lajoie are among those not on the current roster who will have a shot to make it next season. They are all signed to entry-level contracts. Those aren’t high base salaries (all under $1 million), and the Senators will have plenty of room to cover any bonuses reached. 

You can add Josh Norris’s name to that list. He was accidentally unmentioned by Pierre Dorion at the GM’s post-deadline media conference, but they have very high hopes for the Wolverine, too.

Who needs a new contract that is almost certainly returning? Colin White does. So does Christian Wolanin. Those won’t be huge numbers, but add to the total. So, let’s say four of the prospects make it, while White and Wolanin are re-signed. That puts you over $50 million. 

If they want to bring back Anders Nilsson, he’s currently at $2.25 million. Anthony Duclair and Nick Paul have arbitration rights. Duclair is making only $650,000 — but has 12 goals. That’s a decent-sized raise. 

The big one is going to be Cody Ceci, also eligible for arbitration. He’s at $4.3 million, one year away from unrestricted free agency. His new number would eat a good chunk of the open space, but at some point, there needs to be a conversation on whether or not it is time for both player and team to start fresh. 

It’s hard to see the Senators committing to him long-term in this environment, so why repeat a trade-deadline soap opera? Depending what Ottawa decides to do here, there’s going to be somewhere between $8 and $10 million of room. And that’s where creativity comes in.

The Senators (and potentially Columbus) will be in position to take advantage of teams who need space. Everyone can go 10 per cent over in the summer, but, eventually, the new season arrives and no one wants to be scrambling. There will be plenty of opportunity; you can go through several rosters to see potential fits. If the Senators don’t want term, there are two one-season injury fits that benefit Toronto and Vegas. 

I know how much the Senators (and their fans) would love to aid Toronto, but the Maple Leafs removing the one year and $5.3 million of Nathan Horton’s remaining contract would help. The Golden Knights have $5.25 million left to pay David Clarkson. Ottawa has to make those opponents (or anyone else who tries) earn it.

The other thing Ottawa can try is what the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers did in the summer of 2017. Way under the cap and needing a shooter, they signed J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23-million contract. (He extended for another season and $12.25 million last summer.) Before your eyes fall out of your heads, I’m not suggesting the Senators pay anyone that much. But a young team is going to need a good veteran or two. And a one-year contract at a bigger number is a simple way to hit the floor. Term doesn’t kill you, and you’ve got to spend the money anyway.

I don’t think it is going to be too difficult.

31 THOUGHTS

1. The Mark Stone sweepstakes were all but over Sunday night when Vegas put Erik Brannstrom on the table.

“Ottawa was not getting any prospect better than him,” another exec said. “Even if you think they should have gotten a first-rounder (from Vegas), they still weren’t getting a better young player than that. No one was going to beat it.”

He’s very talented, and there’s every reason to believe he’ll be in the Canadian capital no later than October. I still think it was the Senators’ goal to get a first-rounder on top of the conditional one they received in the Matt Duchene trade with Columbus. But Vegas held firm, feeling Brannstrom was enough of a prize to give up.

The other thing the Golden Knights held as an advantage was the feeling that if Stone was extending anywhere else at the deadline, it was in Nevada. I think if Calgary got him there, the Flames loved their chances of it eventually occurring. But word is Ottawa’s ask included Juuso Valimaki, and for the second year in a row Calgary rejected anyone’s attempts to pry loose the Finnish defenceman.

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Florida was very interested in Stone, but wasn’t getting that long-term commitment. Nashville was in there. So were the Islanders and Boston. There are teams who suspect that if the Vegas deal fell apart, Stone was going to be an Islanders rental (my guess is the offer included Anthony Beauvillier and a first-rounder, but I’m not expecting Lou Lamoriello to confirm that).

In the days leading up to the deadline, everyone else in this race thought they were chasing Winnipeg. In the end, I don’t think the Jets made much of a push, if any. Stone was a pure rental for them, and they didn’t like the price. That hurt Ottawa’s ability to drive the market.

2. My theory on the Stone negotiation with Ottawa: I think there was a time he’d decided he was going to leave. A long-term extension never happened last summer, and it didn’t happen when he was again eligible, on New Year’s Day. The Senators listened to that, but had one important thing going for them — he liked it there, and they knew it. So, they took a run at Matt Duchene, hoping they could get him done and then go back to Stone. Obviously, the former didn’t happen, but they still took another shot at signing the winger. That’s why Duchene was on the market for five days before Stone.

As previously reported, the Senators came back with something in the ballpark of five years at $10.5 million, and then I think both sides were close enough on an eight-year extension that the player legitimately had something to think about. According to several sources, the Senators weren’t sure about a full no-move clause (which Stone apparently is getting in Vegas).

But, in the end, I don’t think it was about the contract. It was about direction. Stone will thrive on a team that is going for it. A lot of people outside of Ottawa — or who aren’t Senators fans — look at the prospect base and feel they are in good position. You could make a really good case for why it made much more sense for them to trade Stone than keep him. But a fanbase with a total lack of consumer confidence in ownership is going to need proof.       

3. Apparently, Stone and Tkachuk could barely talk when they said goodbye to each other. Very emotional. 

4. Sportsnet’s Marc Savard feels the Senators have a legitimate chance to re-sign Duchene. Very curious to see if Montreal becomes a rival for his services. The Canadiens looked into it, but didn’t want to pay the rental price. Do they circle back in June?

5. On LeBreton Flats, Ottawa’s downtown-arena plan: One of the rumours coming out of the partnership’s dissolution would be starting the project under what is called “the Donut Plan.” That would mean development of the retail/condominium properties with a hole where the arena could eventually go. What no one says with any certainty is if that can happen without a full re-start of the process, and we probably won’t know for at least another week. The other major question is if the federal government will hold things until after the upcoming election. (That’s been assumed for awhile now, but no 100 per cent guarantee.) If fans stay away, that increases the revenue-sharing owed to the Senators. Eugene Melnyk loves owning the Ottawa Senators. And, even if he wanted to sell, the $400 million (USD) offered last summer won’t get past the league office. 

6. Let’s go around Canada, east to west. In addition to Duchene, I think Montreal checked in on Eric Staal, but needed permission to get him and we know Staal wasn’t interested in going anywhere. GM Marc Bergevin was in Russia prior to the deadline and one of the rumblings coming out of there is the Canadiens turned down some kind of trade offer that involved Alexander Romanov. Taken 38th in the 2018 draft, the defenceman looks like a player.

7. Toronto was like a duck — calm on top, churning water under the surface. They made the one trade with Par Lindholm going to Winnipeg for Nicolas Petan, but someday we’re going to get a clearer idea of what the Maple Leafs tried. They looked at Wayne Simmonds (at a similar price to what Nashville paid, I think) and Micheal Ferland (at a higher price), and passed. They did not want to deal Connor Brown for a rental, and discussed a Brown-for-Matt Benning swap with Edmonton. (Brian Burke thinks Jujhar Khaira came up between the two teams as well.) I had multiple denials on the Adam Larsson rumours. I suspect, though, the Maple Leafs attempted something bigger we haven’t figured out yet.

8. Toronto management believes in Justin Holl. They refused to put him on waivers, even though he played just two games this season. With Travis Dermott and Jake Gardiner hurt, Holl gets his shot. The Maple Leafs are hoping rest can ease Gardiner’s back issues. If surgery is needed, that’s going to be a problem and could jeopardize his season.

9. I think Wayne Simmonds was willing and preparing to waive his no-trade for Winnipeg. One of the versions is the Jets thought they were getting him, only to see Philadelphia send Simmonds to Nashville instead. However, another source indicated the Jets pivoted away when Joshua Morrissey was injured Sunday night in Arizona. The Flyers indicated they had a first-rounder on the table for Simmonds, and teams suspected the Jets were considering it. Instead, their pick went to the Rangers for Kevin Hayes. After that, they needed defenders, with Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien out of the lineup. Already down a first- and third-rounder for June’s draft, this draft-and-develop organization went for those who cost them lower-round selections. 

10. Winnipeg wasn’t the only team that asked about Matt Hendricks. I think both Calgary and Edmonton did, too. People love the guy.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

11. There was some Zack Kassian action in Edmonton. Nashville apparently checked in before acquiring Brian Boyle. The Oilers wanted to keep him.

12. Edmonton announced Thursday that Jesse Puljujarvi is out for the season due to upcoming hip surgery. That explains why GM Keith Gretzky said it was much more likely the winger be traded during the summer as opposed to the deadline. It will be interesting to see, though, if the Oilers try to package him with a contract they wish to move.

13. Early in my career, the Toronto Raptors tried to trade a player named Victor Alexander, only to have the deal voided because he failed his physical. (One of the reporters carved him in print, and Alexander came looking for him on press row after he returned. That was a good lesson.) Jason Zucker didn’t fail a physical, but knows this weird feeling after his near-trade to Calgary, involving Michael Frolik and what’s believed to be a first- or second-second-round draft pick, fell through.

It’s awkward, but Steve Yzerman was nearly traded to Ottawa and things sure worked out for him. Only Mike Comrie’s refusal to pay back a signing bonus to the Oilers in 2003 prevented Corey Perry’s Anaheim career from ending before it began. Worked out pretty well for him, too. Zucker gets some control over his situation — a partial no-trade — on July 1.

14. It’s possible Calgary made a waiver claim on Micheal Haley, too. But San Jose had priority.

15. The Flames wouldn’t confirm it, but did ask about Vancouver’s Alexander Edler. It’s believed Pittsburgh circled around him a couple of times during the year, and Sportsnet 650’s Rick Dhaliwal reported Columbus had interest, too. The biggest hurdle in Edler’s contract talks with the Canucks will be no-move protection. With Quinn Hughes turning pro this year and potentially being eligible for the 2021 Seattle expansion draft, the organization will want maximum flexibility.

16. I don’t presume to know who is right and who is wrong in this Vancouver/Jonathan Dahlen “he said, she said” situation — although, as with any breakup, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Prior to William Nylander’s signing deadline on Dec. 1, the Canucks made an eleventh-hour attempt to get him. Dahlen was included in the package, although I’m not sure what else was there. The Maple Leafs — who preferred to sign Nylander — said no. It’s interesting that San Jose was the team who got him. The Sharks are unafraid to go after anyone if they see talent. They aren’t going to worry about what happened in Utica. 

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17. Days before Pittsburgh acquired Erik Gudbranson, the Penguins had a nasty game with San Jose where Sidney Crosby ended up fighting Haley — a tough customer. According to The Athletic’s Josh Yohe, a Penguins player saw Evander Kane look at their bench and say, “Who on this team is going to do anything about it?” Gudbranson badly needed a fresh start, and, if anyone can breathe new energy into his career, Sergei Gonchar is a great bet. But you have to believe Gudbranson ended up in Pittsburgh (and Adam McQuaid in Columbus) with Washington in mind.

18. In the days leading up to Carl Hagelin’s trade to Washington, Pittsburgh tried to re-acquire the winger. Before the trade was submitted for Central Registry approval, someone noticed that the Penguins were ineligible to do it. They traded him to Los Angeles on Nov. 28 and retained salary. A team can not bring back any such player for one year after the initial move. 

19. After watching Thursday night, the Islanders should be playing at the Coliseum throughout the playoffs. Period. End of story.

20. As Chris Johnston reported, Columbus initially asked Ottawa about acquiring all three of Duchene, Stone and Ryan Dzingel. The Blue Jackets wanted to keep their top two prospects — Liam Foudy and Alexandre Texier. Don’t think that was going to be possible under this scenario.

21. There was hope Los Angeles would drop its price on Tyler Toffoli, but the Kings did not. It is believed they were asking for a first-rounder and a good prospect, at least. With another year remaining on his contract, they hope he can regain his 31-goal form.

22. One opponent was not surprised Jonathan Quick was the King to get upset during Tuesday’s ugly 6-1 loss in Carolina.

“Don’t care how bad the season is going,” he said, “Quick is always going to demand the best of himself, and everyone around him. I don’t think that outburst was solely about not challenging goalie interference.”

23. Brandon Montour’s first game in Buffalo featured 18:11 of ice-time for him, still five minutes below his average when Randy Carlyle coached the Ducks. It was, however, 1:08 higher than after Bob Murray took over.

Stream over 500 NHL games blackout-free, including the Flames, Oilers, Leafs and Canucks. Plus Hockey Night in Canada, Rogers Hometown Hockey, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey and more.

24. It has not gone unnoticed that Buffalo has four right-hand shot defencemen under contract for next season: Montour, Zach Bogosian, Casey Nelson and Rasmus Ristolainen.

25. As a thank you to John Carlson, Madison Bowey is wearing 74 for the Detroit Red Wings. He initially wanted 4, and could have had it before Feb. 1, when it was retired in honour of Red Kelly.

26. Six teams — Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, New Jersey, the Rangers and Philadelphia — own more than a quarter of the NHL’s 2019 draft picks. They all have 10, or 60 of the 217, which is 28 per cent. If you add in Carolina, Florida, Vancouver and Vegas’s nine, that’s 10 of the NHL’s 31 clubs with 44 per cent of the selections. Five teams have two firsts. The Sabres had three before sending one to Anaheim for Montour.

27. Friday is a big day, with teams allowed a 10 per cent bump on “tagging room” for the 2019–20 season on March 1. (Basically, no NHL club is allowed to have more than this year’s salary cap — $79.5 million — in commitments for next year. That rises to $87.45 million on that date.) That gives room for some business to get done, including extensions for Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg (five years, approximately $26.25 million) and Stone in Vegas (eight years, $76 million).

28. Expect there to be some discussion at the GM meetings about resting players before the deadline. I don’t know how you can avoid it, and it is not happening often enough during the season to be a major concern. But, it’s been informally chatted about.

29. Tampa Bay is on-pace for 131 points. The NHL record is 132, set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. No one should be comparing the two teams, and there are no ties. But I’m looking forward to seeing if the Lightning make a run at it.

30. There were approximately 20 NHL teams at the Hobey Baker rink in Princeton, N.J. last week to see the Tigers host the Clarkson Golden Knights. Princeton’s got a few players teams are looking at, although it has been a slightly down year for Max Veronneau — top on that list. The Golden Knights are led by centre Nico Sturm, a soon-to-be 24-year-old from Germany. He’s their captain, with 39 points in 32 games. He’s getting a lot of looks.

31. Last week was the deadline for Patrik Berglund to appeal his voided contract. He did not do so, ending the process. Just wanted to wish Berglund all the best in getting himself to a better place. That’s what matters most.

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