NHL Rumor Mill – April 2, 2020
The latest on the Golden Knights and Flames, plus some speculation over how the players and teams could cope with revenue losses in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WHAT WILL THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS DO WITH LEHNER?
THE ATHLETIC: What to do with Robin Lehner was among Jesse Granger’s five pressing questions for the Vegas Golden Knights. They acquired the 28-year-old goaltender from the Chicago Blackhawks at the February trade deadline. He’s eligible for unrestricted free agent status at season’s end.
Granger wonders if the front office views Lehner as a rental or a long-term future in net. If Lehner outperforms starter Marc-Andre Fleury during the 2020 playoffs, it raises the possibility of re-signing him and shopping Fleury, who has two seasons remaining on his contract at $7 million annually.
Lehner will likely depart via free agency, leaving the Golden Knights with an aging Fleury and no real backup plan for next season. They could explore cheaper backup options via free agency or promote Oscar Dansk or Garret Sparks.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Lehner were to backstop the Golden Knights into the Stanley Cup Final, moving Fleury could become a serious possibility. After being spurned by the Blackhawks and the New York Islanders over the past year, Lehner will seek the stability of a lucrative long-term deal. He can justifiably claim he’s earned it since turning his life and career around two years ago.
Fleury’s situation is complicated by his age (35) and his 10-team no-trade clause. Even if the Golden Knights wanted to move him, they might not find many takers unless the Golden Knights pick up part of his salary.
FLAMES COULD FACE AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE IN GOAL
SPORTSNET: Eric Francis recently examined the Calgary Flames’ goaltending depth. Where their goalie prospects slot next season will depend on whether or not they re-sign Cam Talbot. The 32-year-old netminder is due to become a UFA after this season.
Talbot’s return seems likely following his return to form this season while David Rittich struggled during the second half. However, his bounce-back season could also entice him to test the free-agent market.
“Will it be status quo, or will the Flames use some of their cap space to chase a significant free agent like Robin Lehner or Jacob Markstrom?”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If Talbot walks, the Flames will at least want a reliable backup for Rittich for next season. If they’ve lost confidence in Rittich as a starter, they could pursue a UFA like Lehner or Markstrom.
HOW WILL THE NHL AND NHLPA ADDRESS THIS SEASON’S LOST REVENUE?
SPORTSNET: In his latest “31 Thoughts” column, Elliotte Friedman reported estimates of up to $220 million in lost revenue if the NHL resumes the remainder of the 2019-20 schedule, including an extra four percent of escrow claw-backs from players’ salaries. If the season and playoffs are canceled, the losses are estimated at $1.1 billion and 35 percent escrow.
The teams and players agree to defer money could be one way to address the issue. “For example, a player with a five-year contract at a $5-million AAV would still have that term and cap hit, but could agree to hold some of the payments,” writes Friedman. “Teams would get a break on cash flow, and players could save until escrow was lowered. Don’t know if it will happen, but spitballing never hurts.”
THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun cited an anonymous player agent suggesting the NHL and NHLPA should merge the two realities of dealing with lost revenue from this season and their collective bargaining negotiations into a longer-term agreement.
The agent envisions a six-year CBA that sets the salary-cap maximum at $81.5 million with a fixed escrow of 10 percent. “It may take 2-3 seasons for that money to be returned to the owners, consider it a deferred payment,” said the agent. “As a trade-off, perhaps the players agree to receive the AAV of a contract going forward (until the owners are made whole) to avoid front-loaded cash over cap issues.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This is merely speculation by Friedman and LeBrun, but it’s undoubtedly based on what they’re hearing from sources within the league and the NHLPA. I believe both sides understand the need for short- and long-term stability coming out of the pandemic season.
The last thing they need is a return to the contentious labor relationship of the past. There’s a real opportunity here for long-term NHL labor peace. Here’s hoping the two sides make the most of it.