31 Thoughts: Could short-term deals break RFA stalemates?

The Hockey Central at Noon panel break down Carolina's options regarding Sebastian Aho's upcoming contract discussions.

• Will Colorado be a big player come July 1?
• Ray Shero on how the P.K. Subban trade came together
• The latest on the goalie carousel

It didn’t get huge play, but Travis Sanheim’s two-year, $6.5 million extension in Philadelphia did not go unnoticed. Sanheim had an excellent sophomore season, with 35 points in 82 games even though the Flyers asked him to play his weak side. If he keeps this up, his next contract is going to be big and fat.

And that will be when the cap is scheduled to jump.

The NHL and NHLPA did the expected last weekend, announcing a ceiling of $81.5 million — $1.5 million below mid-season projections. As the league and players quietly work towards extending/renegotiating the CBA, word was the majority of players would vote for a minimal increase to the cap. (Players can bump it up to five per cent. They chose 0.5 per cent.) A similar maneuver is expected for 2020-21. The hope of a new US television deal means a more significant rise for 2021-22.

If you’re a free agent now, it’s bad news. Things are a little cramped for Mr. RFA and Mr. UFA.

Sanheim didn’t have the leverage of a Mitch Marner, a Patrik Laine, a Kyle Connor, a Brayden Point, a Charlie McAvoy, a Matthew Tkachuk, a Sebastian Aho, a Mikko Rantanen or a Timo Meier. But, as one exec said, “Is his route the right one to go?”

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There’s a gridlock now. We’ll see if this changes during the free-agency period, but both teams and agents felt last weekend that the biggest question would be: who goes first? Is there a player or a team willing to take the first plunge, willing to set the market for everyone else, willing to take the groans and criticisms if everyone hates your result? Or, are we going to see trenches dug on both sides, with players sitting out the start of the season, flirting with the Dec. 1 deadline for a deal?

The danger with this route is that if your RFA is your most important business, it will be harder to get other things done. This is what Toronto and Winnipeg are battling.

The friendliest-sounding discussion is around Point, but that doesn’t make his situation a guarantee. The Lightning have done bridges for years, wielding the force of the CBA on their roster when necessary. Point doesn’t appear interested in that, believed to be preferring something with a little more term.

Others are more complicated. When Carolina traded Calvin de Haan to Chicago, I immediately assumed the savings were for Sebastian Aho. That may not be the case, however. The Hurricanes have several balls in the air and paid almost $4 million for the first-round pick from Toronto that freed them of Patrick Marleau. Owner Tom Dundon could also say to Aho: “This is my offer, and I’m not changing it.”

Brock Boeser’s outlook varies depending on who is talking, but six times $7.5 million million makes sense (he is not eligible for an offer sheet, however).

Then, there’s Laine. If anyone opts for a short-term contract, it’s probably Laine, who seemed very unhappy with how things went last season. Visibly frustrated when the Jets were knocked out by St. Louis, he’s barely scratching the surface. If I had his talent (news flash: I don’t), I’d bet on myself.

Same goes for Marner.

When it comes to offer sheets, I’m like the economist who predicts the housing bubble will burst. They’re wrong almost every time. But that moment it happens, out comes the back-patting. One of these days, offer sheets will happen. Now? God only knows. There are lots of rumours.

One agent said there’s no point in looking at the idea without answering three things: Who has the cap space, who has the draft picks and who has the “will” to do it? The Islanders check those boxes, and a couple of opponents wondered about Buffalo — to rejuvenate the team and market. Most don’t expect them to happen. (One GM specifically said he hoped it didn’t happen to Toronto, because he didn’t want to see the Maple Leafs, angry, with extra cap room and picks.)

When Toronto was negotiating with Auston Matthews, a three-year deal was discussed. The player assumes more risk in that situation, so, if it was to happen, it would have to be at a $9 million AAV. The team didn’t want to do that — too high.

But I wonder what the acceptable number is. In some of these situations, that might break the stalemate. You’ll pay me now, and you’ll pay me later. When you’ve got even more room.

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1. At the end of the season, one Canuck predicted the team could have six or eight new players, and he looks to be right. They will try to re-sign Ben Hutton at a number it considers more palatable, but there will be interest. It’s believed Chicago was in before landing Calvin de Haan, and Toronto’s snooped around. I thought Jake Gardiner was out after they re-signed Alex Edler, but with Hutton in limbo, they need another lefty (Jordie Benn?). After Tyler Myers’ Sunday night visit, we all had him sleeping in Orca pajamas. I do think they are the favourite, but there is other interest — right-handed defenders are hard to find.

The Canucks’ biggest concern might be Roberto Luongo. I don’t profess to know Luongo’s final decision, but outright retirement — instead of going on the long-term injury list — is a legit possibility. Should that happen, they are looking at a cap recapture penalty of approximately $3 million per year for the next three years, with Florida at just over $1 million a year. That number would be annoying to the Canucks.

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2. I’m told a Tyson Barrie-to-Vancouver trade on the opening night of the draft was never as close as we thought.

3. Colorado is going to be fascinating. A boatload of cap room. From the moment Artemi Panarin made it clear he wouldn’t extend in Columbus, the Avalanche wished to pounce — but multiple sources indicate he did not meet them on Sunday, as many of us previously heard. Denver is an unlikely landing spot for the talented winger.

Here’s Colorado’s concern: Mikko Rantanen needs an extension now. Barrie’s up in one year. Philipp Grubauer, Gabriel Landeskog and Cale Makar are up in two; Nathan MacKinnon in four. So the Avalanche are going to be careful about “term” deals that may cause problems down the road. Joe Pavelski made a lot of sense here, but term is why it is unlikely. Mats Zuccarello was on their radar, too, but I’m not sure about that for the same reason. (It is believed Dallas is willing to go four years, so someone would have to beat that.)

The Avalanche were unwilling to include their 16th pick (Alex Newhook) in last week’s draft for Chris Kreider, so it is unlikely that gets re-visited — especially since he’s up in a year. There was a wild rumour about Jonathan Drouin, who has a long friendship with MacKinnon, but a few different sources poo-poohed that one.

4. Pavelski declined visits in a couple of places where he thought the teams weren’t close enough to winning. All eyes are on Dallas and Tampa Bay, although Chicago may try to convince him to visit. The Stars are determined to add scorers.

5. Hearing Montreal and Pittsburgh are on Corey Perry’s radar, with Dallas and possibly Nashville among contenders, too. I’m wondering if the Canadiens are pursuing Anders Lee, but that’s more speculation than confirmation. The Canadiens were positively elated at getting Cole Caufield, and you could tell they were stunned to have a choice between him and Peyton Krebs.

6. I could see Gustav Nyquist and Columbus.

7. Calgary was looking at options for Michael Frolik. That could happen before July 1. New Jersey is a possibility.

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8. Here’s Devils GM Ray Shero on the PK Subban trade timeline: “Friday night, (Nashville GM David Poile) was trying to make a decision and he said, ‘I’ll call you tonight.’ He didn’t…and that’s not like David, really. So this morning, I was having coffee with (Devils owner) Josh Harris, and (David) called me, and first apologized for not calling (Friday night). He just said, ‘Listen, I’m not gonna wait on something else that I’m looking at, do you want to do this?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’”

Poile said in his post-draft availability that there were four teams, with New Jersey being the only one that could take Subban’s full contract. I believe Toronto and Vancouver were two of the other three. It sounds like the Predators wanted Adam Gaudette in the package from Vancouver, but — and this is my sense more than absolute truth — that the Maple Leafs went harder at Subban. I think they’re the team Poile was waiting on.

9. Shero, who was in on Jacob Trouba before the defender went to Manhattan, said he would have been disappointed if the Subban trade fell through. There’s no question they benefitted from the $81.5 million cap ceiling, which limited the market. The biggest concern about Subban is whatever ails his back. He played through a herniated disc two seasons ago, and, although it was denied that was a problem last year, some teams weren’t sure. But, the Devils, needing help on the blue line and an adrenaline infusion, jumped at the opportunity. Basically, it’s as if they signed him to a three-year, $27 million contract. I wonder if, in the future, the NHL will push to finalize the schedule after the draft/free agency. Would the Devils be in line for more television appearances after adding Jack Hughes and Subban?

10. Here was Taylor Hall’s text message to Shero after the Subban trade:

11. Last summer, Damon Severson was everywhere in trade rumours. Not anymore. When Subban was dealt there, a couple clubs wondered if another righty made Severson expendable. With four more years at a cost-effective $4.2 million, that’s a no.

12. Two summers ago, Colorado and Nashville were discussing a Matt Duchene for Subban trade. It fell through. Now that the Predators moved Subban’s money, we’re all waiting to see if this Tennessee romance occurs.

13. Can’t imagine anyone is watching Sergei Bobrovsky’s next contract more closely than Tampa Bay — wondering how that will affect Andrei Vasilevskiy, who will be a restricted free agent next summer. All eyes are on Florida for Bobrovsky. As for Panarin, it looks like the Panthers, Islanders and Rangers. There’s curiosity about Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders. The fact they haven’t extended Lee and Robin Lehner has everyone wondering what they’re up to.

14. Is there an extension coming for Chicago GM Stan Bowman? That’s the rumour, but he was coy at the draft. Wouldn’t confirm or deny.

15. The goalie carousel: San Jose would like to move Aaron Dell, who has a $1.9 million cap hit and $1.6 million in cash. It’s believed the Sharks tried to make it part of the Patrick Marleau trade, which complicated things for an extra 12 hours or so. Mike Smith’s been tied to Calgary (along with Cam Talbot), Carolina and Edmonton. There been a bit of linkage with the Oilers: Petr Mrazek; Semyon Varlamov, too, but his price is high. Heard some talk of James Reimer, but that’s cooled. Curtis McElhinney was hoping for a two-year deal, and may get it.

16. We always get blinded by the stars, but St. Louis’s grinding style was very good for Micheal Ferland and Wayne Simmonds. A couple clubs suspect Minnesota will make the biggest pitch for Simmonds, but there’s plenty of interest. Both the Blues and Bruins were four-line teams, good for Noel Acciari and Joonas Donskoi. I think Edmonton and Los Angeles are among the teams that checked in on Brandon Tanev. The Oilers are exploring everywhere for wingers: from Brett Connolly to Tanev to AHL MVP Daniel Carr. Jesse Puljujarvi’s preference is to resume his NHL career outside of Canada; someplace a little quieter. Boston, Carolina and Tampa Bay are among the possibilities.

17. There was a trade rumour every 10 minutes involving Jason Zucker. Arizona, Edmonton, Toronto, Washington…you name it.

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18. Vegas has some work to do, already at the summer limit of 10 per cent above the cap ceiling. The Golden Knights expertly wielded their flexibility and power at the expansion draft, and some of their potential trade partners have not forgotten. Going to be interesting.

19. On Sunday, The Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker reported that the city’s expansion franchise brought in Alexandra Mandrycky as director of hockey administration. Mandrycky, who officially starts July 1, comes from Minnesota, where she was hired by former Wild GM Chuck Fletcher in January 2016. She built an excellent reputation in that organization, and it wasn’t a surprise that Seattle would pursue her. (Mandrycky’s husband is a doctoral student at the University of Washington.)

What piqued interest across the NHL from Baker’s report was that Mandrycky will be involved in vetting GM candidates. “(Dave Tippett, who left to become coach in Edmonton) set up the parameters of what hockey operations needs, guiding ownership and management how to build and what to look for,” Mandrycky said Tuesday. “This is a unique opportunity. We’ve got two years to build our hockey operations…to innovate, to take what’s been done in the past and improve on that. We’re not just talking about analytics, but every element of hockey operations, scouting, team operations, locker room operations. How can we improve on things across the board? When we’re interviewing a person, you want to understand how they would fit…You can certainly use data to help you understand that. Contracts, trades, team construction, to just ask better questions and have a better understanding of the candidate.”


20. One member of the Wild described her as “quiet, but confident.” Will Mandrycky sit in on the interviews? “It’s too early to say,” she answered. “But I will be part of the process.” She’s not going to be above the hire on the organizational chart, but is going to be a big part of the group.

“(My role) is up to the GM, but I plan on working with whatever candidate becomes GM…My exact role, title and responsibilities will be determined by the candidate that’s selected. Ultimately the philosophies we have — style of play, type of player we want — the GM will dictate. I want to make sure we align with it.”

It is clear that NHL Seattle wants to represent its market, one of the most inclusive and diverse in North America. Fifty-five per cent of the Vice-Presidents in the organization are female, and this job could make Mandrycky the highest-ranking woman in hockey operations in the league.

“I hope this isn’t the case for long,” Mandrycky said. “Unfortunately, you can count (the number of women in hockey operations) on one hand. Not playing hockey hasn’t hindered my ability to help decision-makers. I have nothing but great things to say about Chuck and Paul (Fenton) was great to let me have this opportunity. They pushed me, encouraged me, and I don’t question this will be the same environment in Seattle.”

21. Candidates for Ottawa’s remaining assistant coach opening include Stu Barnes, Kris Knoblauch, Dave Lowry, Davis Payne and Manny Viveiros.

22. Brooks Orpik, whose outstanding career ended on Tuesday, allowed me to tell a story about him that he asked I keep secret for 11 years.

As free agency arrived in 2008, Orpik was being pursued by the Rangers and his Penguins, among others. He was juggling offers and heard New York signed Wade Redden, so he figured the Rangers were out. He called Glen Sather to thank him for his interest, assuming there was no more room for him and re-signing with Penguins. (He may have gone back to Pittsburgh anyway, but that was the clincher.) Not long after, his phone rang. It was Sather, who was not pleased. He wanted both Orpik and Redden. When he told the story, Orpik couldn’t stop laughing at Sather’s reaction. “I can’t explain it in a conversation.”

23. Critical reporting from the awards and the draft: The antelopes San Jose bought Brent Burns for his 1,000th game have already spawned two babies; soon to be 61-year-old George McPhee did the Grouse Grind the day before the draft; Arizona’s table makes the average age in the room much younger; and it is depressing how many players I grew up watching now wear bifocals.

24. More serious stuff: First, some prospects don’t have to talk to everyone. For example, the Jack Hughes’s and Kappo Kakkos of the world aren’t dropping too low, so the teams that get interview time with them at the combine are the teams that could actually get them. Apparently, a couple of clubs pointed out there could be a time these players are available in trades or free agency, so why shouldn’t they get an opportunity? “You never know what you might learn,” one exec said.

25. WHL Red Deer had an NHL draft-eligible centre from last season named Oleg Zaytsev. It was his first season in North America, and while he petered out as the year continued, you could see the potential. Zaytsev went unselected last weekend, mainly because teams heard he will be signing an entry-level contract with the KHL. (Those contracts are also three years.) But, don’t be surprised if someone tries to get him as a free agent, therefore holding his rights until a return.

26. Steve Yzerman wasn’t the only one who sees the potential in German defenceman Moritz Seider, who Detroit took sixth overall. Mark Seidel of North American Central Scouting had him fifth.

27. Good nugget from one ECHL governor: several clubs were very unhappy with Newfoundland’s Kelly Cup victory, feeling the Growlers were stacked with players on AHL contracts. They thought it was a competitive imbalance and wanted to restrict the number of players with such status per roster. At the league’s Board meeting last Monday in Las Vegas, the Growlers (represented by Toronto management) didn’t back down, saying they thought it was best for the development of their prospects — that they see the Growlers as a valuable place to prepare good players who aren’t ready for the AHL. They compared it to the baseball model, where you start at Double-A and move to Triple-A before the majors. It benefits the ECHL if more teams think this way, so the temperature cooled. I thought this was pretty interesting.

28. Back in elementary school — we’re talking Grade 2 — at Bayview Glen in Toronto, one of the boys in my class was Vasik Nedomansky. There weren’t too many “Nedomanskys” at the time, and Vasik sheepishly admitted that his father was indeed the guy who had played for the old World Hockey Association’s Toronto Toros.

Vaclav Nedomansky was a big deal, and not just because he was coming off a 50-goal season before the team moved to Birmingham. The Nedomanskys defected from communist Czechoslovakia in 1974, a story I was too young to remember. (One teacher, knowing my interest in sports, assigned me the topic for a school project, thinking I should understand more about it. Forty-five years later, it’s difficult to convey how major a development this was.)

Bayview Glen was Vasik’s first Canadian school and the place he learned English, although he moved away when Vaclav joined the Detroit Red Wings. We reconnected Tuesday on the date of his father’s Hall of Fame announcement, via Twitter DM. (Full disclosure: he had no recollection of me as a schoolmate.) He now goes by Vashi Nedomansky, and is a film editor in Hollywood. Vashi is working on a documentary about his father — entitled Big Ned. Here is a link to the trailer. Small world, awesome for the family.

29. A few years ago, a coach told me he walked into the hotel gym in Las Vegas very early the morning after the NHL Awards — and saw Sidney Crosby sweating away. Impressed, he told one of his own star players about it, challenging him to match the dedication. At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Canada’s men’s hockey team had an early-morning practice hours after the women’s stunning come-from-behind overtime Gold Medal victory over the United States. I turned around and did a double-take when I saw Hayley Wickenheiser. “Shouldn’t you still be celebrating?” I said. (It’s possible I used the phrase “hungover,” but I can’t remember.) She laughed and said, “That’s for the younger players. There’s always something to learn.” Funny how the best are wired a certain way.

30. Guy Carbonneau’s selection to the Hall is a victory for Bob Clarke. He gave several interviews over the years where he said he felt Carbonneau deserved to be in. At the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, I brought it up to him and Clarke remained adamant. He felt Carbonneau was a dominant defensive player in an offensive era, someone who made a major difference on a regular contender and a Stanley Cup champion. I’ve believed in Sergei Zubov’s candidacy for a long time, a consistently terrific player who always seemed under the radar. I didn’t deal a ton with Jerry York, but, obviously have done plenty with Jim Rutherford. He’s someone I’m going to write about when he retires.

31. These will be the Final 31 Thoughts of the 2018-19 season. Can’t thank you enough for reading; the blog would not exist without your consumption. Thank you to the editors who have to grind through this muck.

The greatest thing about working in this business is the people. It’s hard when you lose good ones. Some aren’t ready to see their situations discussed publicly, so I will keep it to those who are. It was Bob McCown who gave me some of the greatest advice I ever received: “Don’t *&%$ With Happy!” He’d tell me constantly about people who left great situations for reasons that weren’t good enough and regretted it later. Bob also told me that if I wanted to be as good as I could be, I’d have to step out of my comfort zone from time-to-time, a lesson I really didn’t understand until I got older.

When I left school to get into the business (1993), Scotty Morrison was a powerful voice in print, someone you read every day in the pages of The Toronto Sun. I started as a writer, and admired the way Morrison carried himself in public. He rarely yelled, rarely called attention to himself. There would be intense situations with players, coaches, whoever, and Scotty never lost his cool. Whatever he felt, he kept it for his column. That spoke for him.

When you get in television, it’s harder to do that because the medium demands emotion, but it is the way I always felt was right. Seeing him at the start of my career gave me confidence that was the way to go. Garrett Hansford and I met when I joined Rogers. I remember him producing the Heritage Classic in Winnipeg when we had to fill, what, a two-hour delay? It worked out fine, but when I saw him later, I asked, “How much did you sweat?” and we started laughing as he jokingly did a long wipe of his forehead. I will also never forget his hilarious meltdown when his cable box re-booted during the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, causing him to miss a Nashville Predators multiple-overtime winning goal. (Sadly, the tweets have been deleted.)

Then, there’s Chad Walker. Chad joined The Score just after it started in 1997. All of us were thrown in the deep end of the pool and told to sink or swim. He swam, becoming a critical part of that group and later moving to Rogers. He is a huge Seattle Seahawks fan, and, one season when we worked together, I bet him the Seahawks would not make the playoffs. He was confident, but we couldn’t find the proper thing to wager. At some point during the season, I saw the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza comes up with the idea of someone serving as another person’s butler because they didn’t have car insurance to pay for an accident. So that was the bet. The loser had to be the winner’s butler at some kind of party or something. The Seahawks made the playoffs. I lost. I was willing to do it, but it never got done. Chad, I think it’s time.

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