If the NHL’s target start date of Jan. 13 stays on track, that means we are about four weeks from the drop of the puck — and still there are a lot of contracts to figure out.
Earlier this week, Sportsnet’s Emily Sadler gave us the latest league-wide updates on 17 of the most notable UFAs still to be signed. Mike Hoffman, Mikael Granlund, Travis Hamonic…these players are all still available, a situation that would likely not be under normal circumstances.
The trade and signing market has ground to a halt as we await the league and players’ association to take their plans for the upcoming season across the finish line, but once that happens a bunch of transaction news is likely to follow. There are a lot of unfinished storylines around the league.
In the meantime, there is some buzz around what might come next for a few players, who are the focus of today’s NHL Rumour Roundup.
IS BARZAL BOUND TO GET A BRIDGE DEAL?
The New York Islanders are one of the teams most hurt by the stagnant salary cap. Had the upper limit risen by the previously anticipated $3 million or so, Mathew Barzal‘s second contract wouldn’t have been as much of a concern. They still would have felt a tight squeeze, but likely could have gotten through it with minor alterations to the roster.
Under a flat $81.5 million cap, though, Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello might have some tough decisions to make.
New York is currently projected to have $3.9 million in regular season cap space with newly acquired RFA Dmytro Timashov and Barzal still to sign. Because of this crunch, it seems more likely that Barzal will get a bridge contract than a max-term extension.
“That’s still what I’m hearing,” Elliotte Friedman said on Sportsnet 960 The FAN’s Big Show. “They still have a lot of cap issues, so that’s what I expect.
“I just don’t know how they’re going to be able to get to a Barzal six- or seven-year number without major surgery. Even a two- or three-year deal could be somewhat painful surgery.”
In his three full NHL seasons, Barzal has 207 points in 232 games, good for a points per game mark of 0.89, which ranks 38th in the NHL among all players with 100 games played in that span.
As far as comparables go, Tampa’s Brayden Point is a decent start. Point has similar offensive totals (15 more points than Barzal in five fewer games) and role on their teams (top line centre, leading forwards in average ice time). So, when you remember that Point signed a three-year bridge in September of 2019 to fit under Tampa Bay’s crunch, and that it came with a $6.75 million price tag, you can see how the Islanders will be up against it, and why anything longer would be tough to pull off.
It sure seems that at least one player will have to go from the current roster.
IS HAMONIC STILL A TARGET FOR THE CANUCKS?
Though 30-year-old Hamonic didn’t have the best season of his career in 2019-20, the long-time shutdown specialist would still be a welcomed addition to many blue line groups around the league. He’s the top available defenceman left on the market, too.
His range of destinations may be more narrow, though, because of a preference to play in the west and close to home. That’s what led to him coming to Calgary in the first place, via trade from the Islanders.
After three years with the Flames, it’s possible the team just has no room for him on the roster, and with only $1 million in projected salary cap space, the financials might not make sense either.
Two of Calgary’s most notable off-season pickups, Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev, were signed away from the Canucks — so what are the chances the Canucks would be interested in bringing Hamonic in?
“I do know Vancouver has been in and out on Hamonic and they were very interested in Hamonic before they acquired Nate Schmidt,” Friedman said. “I still think they remain interested in Hamonic, but they probably don’t have the flexibility salary-wise they did before they traded for Schmidt.”
On top of bringing in Schmidt to shore up their top four, the Canucks and GM Jim Benning have signalled an intention to add more youth to their lineup. Olli Juolevi, Jack Rathbone, Jalen Chatfield and Brogan Rafferty will all be challenging for a roster spot in camp and would quench that preference for youth.
The more specific need, though, may be on the right side of the defence. Of these young players, only Chatfield shoots right. This is where Hamonic, a righty, might continue to make sense. The trickier question to answer would be how the dollars would work here.
Could this be a wait-and-see situation where the possibility of expanded rosters or taxi squads help sway Hamonic’s (and a team’s) decision? It’s not clear how those will work yet, but knowing that teams will have to be prepared to deal with positive tests, injuries and compact schedules with a flat cap, it’s likely the league will have to make its rosters bigger for a year. That could trigger a decision for Hamonic, and possibly put back on the table a team like Calgary, depending on what the rules are around salary, and what he wants as far as playing time guarantees.
“I could see Treliving looking at it as a safety valve,” Friedman continued. “I could see him saying ‘we’re going to be playing a lot of back-to-back games, I don’t mind having this veteran experience here.’ But if you’re Hamonic, are you looking at Calgary’s D and saying ‘I’m starting this year in the top-six?”
While the Flames added Tanev, they’re also returning Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and getting back 22-year-old highly touted rookie Juuso Valimaki, who tore his ACL in 2019 and missed all of last season.
“There were some teams in the east that liked Hamonic,” Friedman said. “I think Philly did. And he is very particular about where he’s going to play. One of the reasons I think it’s Calgary and Vancouver is because I think those are two teams he’d be happy to play for.”