Torn Between My Head and My Heart in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final

For those of you wondering why my 2019 Stanley Cup Final prediction isn’t here, it’s already been published with The Guardian (PEI). Here’s the CliffsNotes version:

“Led by Tuukka Rask’s stellar goaltending and their strong special teams, I expect the Boston Bruins will defeat the St. Louis Blues in six games to win the 2019 Stanley Cup.”

At least, that’s what my head tells me.

In my heart, I’m hoping the Blues can pull off the upset and win their first-ever Cup.

I’ve got no dog in this fight, no skin in this game, and other cliches about not having any favorites in this contest.

In my role as a free-lance pundit, it’s my unbiased opinion the Bruins simply have too much talent and experience.

As a fan of the game, however, I love an underdog. Especially one with the story like the Blues.

If you thought the expansion Vegas Golden Knights’ run to the 2018 Cup Final was hard to believe, wait until you see the Blues story.

The Blues, remember, were last in the overall standings in early-January. They’d changed coaches in November with little notable effect. Key players such as Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, and Brayden Schenn were rumored to be trade bait. Their goaltending was so bad they resorted to starting a 25-year-old minor-league call-up named Jordan Binnington.

Every expert, and probably most Blues fans, had written them off by that point.

And then, they started winning. A lot. And they haven’t stopped winning. They rose from the bottom of the standings into a playoff berth. They upset the Winnipeg Jets, took out the Dallas Stars, and beat the San Jose Sharks. All the guys said to be trade bait played key roles in their march to the Final.

Now, they’re set to face off with the Bruins in a rematch of the 1970 Stanley Cup Final, a series memorable for Bobby Orr’s iconic series-clinching goal.

A team given up for dead at midseason rises to reach the Stanley Cup Final and faces off against the team that defeated them in their last Final appearance 49 years ago. If this wasn’t happening in real life, it would look like something from the desperate mind of a fourth-rate screenwriter with a serious cocaine habit. 

It would be an amazing story if the Blues overcame the odds to win their first championship. But then my head reminds me of how impressive the Bruins are.

Rask has been amazing between the pipes this spring. He’s the favorite to win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. Binnington’s been very good for the Blues. Rask has been otherworldly.

Their power play (34-freakin’-percent success rate!) is this postseason’s best, while their penalty kill is the fourth-best at 86.3 percent. The Blues, meanwhile, are ninth with the man-advantage (19.4) and eleventh on the penalty kill at 78 percent.

Center Patrice Bergeron and wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak form one of the league’s most formidable scoring lines. Their depth at center (Bergeron, David Krejci, and Charlie Coyle) is impressive. The defense, anchored by the ageless Zdeno Chara and rising star Charlie McAvoy, can stifle the best offense.

So that’s my dilemma. For the first time in a very long while, I’m torn between my head and my heart when it comes to the Stanley Cup Final.

My head says Boston. My heart says St. Louis.

Because I cover the NHL for a living, I’m picking the Bruins. But the fan in me won’t be upset if the Blues win.

Enjoy the show, everyone.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Conference Finals Predictions

We’re down to the Final Four in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, it’s the Boston Bruins squaring off against the Carolina Hurricanes. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks tangle with the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference.

After going three-for-eight with my opening round predictions, I broke even with my second-round selections, correctly picking the Bruins and Sharks. So let’s see how I fare with my Conference Finals picks.

As always, these predictions are merely for fun. Like everyone else, I’m making my best guess and I don’t take them seriously. Don’t get upset if I don’t select your team to win. If you feel like taunting me if these picks fail to pan out, you’ll be wasting your time because I don’t care.

Boston Bruins vs Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins needed seven games to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs and six games to despatch the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games and swept the New York Islanders.

The plucky Hurricanes are once again the underdogs, facing a Bruins team that finished eight points ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. They don’t have any notable superstars. Heck, head coach Rod Brind’Amour is more recognizable to most hockey fans than many of his players.

Nevertheless, the Hurricanes are a hardworking team stocked with good young talent. Forwards Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter, and Warren Foegele provide the offensive punch. Veterans Jordan Staal and captain Justin Williams still have lots left in the tank.

Their blueline, anchored by Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Pesce, is among the league’s best. They’re also getting solid goaltending from veterans Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney.

The Hurricanes are a team on the rise. They’re an exciting bunch who should continue to improve in the coming years.

The Bruins, meanwhile, are loaded with plenty of recognizable talent. Forwards Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak power the offense. Ageless captain Zdeno Chara leads the defense corps. Goaltender Tuukka Rask is playing his way into contention for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Roster depth is proving invaluable for the Bruins in this postseason.  David Krejci and Charlie Coyle are among those stepping up offensively when needed. Underrated Torey Krug and young rearguards Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are logging big minutes on the blueline.

The Hurricanes have proven they cannot be taken lightly this spring. Nevertheless, I have my doubts they can match up well with the Bruins.

The Bruins are no longer haunted by the ghosts of playoff failures past. Rask is a reliable starter who’s no longer rattled in postseason play. The Bruins can withstand physical punishment and dish out plenty of their own. Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak can be neutralized for a game or two, but they’ve proven difficult to contain for an entire series. Boston’s special teams are among this spring’s best while the Hurricanes are among the worst.  I believe they’ve got the depth and experience to take this series.

It’s been a terrific run for the Cinderella Hurricanes, but midnight is about to strike. PREDICTION: BRUINS IN SIX.

San Jose Sharks vs St. Louis Blues. The Sharks eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche with each series going the full seven games. The Blues bounced the Winnipeg Jets in six games but needed seven to vanquish the Dallas Stars.

Three years after reaching the Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks are one series away from another shot at hockey’s ultimate prize. They’re a star-studded team, featuring Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on defense with Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and the ageless Joe Thornton at forward.

The Sharks also overcame some adversity along the way. They rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Vegas. Goaltender Martin Jones was shaky through the first half of that series but has regained his steady form. Pavelski missed all but one game of the Avs series with a concussion.

If you want to talk about beating the odds, look no further than the Blues. Dead last in the league on Jan. 3 and given up for dead, they surged into a playoff berth, upset the favored Jets, and ground out a hard-fought victory over the Stars. Under-estimate this team at your peril.

Under interim coach Craig Berube, the Blues improved their forechecking and puck possession. Mid-season call-up Jordan Binnington is playing like a Vezina Trophy contender between the pipes. Jaden Schwartz has become a postseason scoring machine while captain Alex Pietrangelo is among the postseason’s best defensemen.

While the Blues are this season’s comeback story, they could struggle to overcome San Jose’s depth of talent, leadership, and postseason experience. The Sharks aren’t dysfunctional like the Jets and carry a lot more firepower than the Stars.

The Sharks are hungry for another shot at the Stanley Cup. They’re poised to take a big bite out of the Blues. PREDICTION: SHARKS IN SIX.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Second Round Predictions

Like most fans and pundits, most of my first-round predictions for this year’s playoffs failed to pan out. With the four division leaders all bounced from the opening round for the first time in league history, I went three-for-eight with my picks, correctly predicting the Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, and St. Louis Blues would advance.

Are more upsets in the offing in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs? (Photo via NHL Images)

Let’s see if I can do a better job with my second-round predictions. Once again, these are merely for fun so don’t get wrapped around the axle if I don’t pick your team to advance. And if you do get upset, send your complaints to someone who gives a damn.

Boston Bruins vs Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets pulled off the biggest upset of the postseason and one of the biggest in Stanley Cup playoff history by sweeping the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. For the second straight year, the Bruins required seven games to vanquish the Toronto Maple Leafs from the opening round.

By upsetting the Lightning, the Jackets proved they aren’t to be taken lightly. They’ve got a solid defense corps and several skilled scorers led by Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Matt Duchene, while two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky regained his mojo to win his first-ever playoff series.

However, the Jackets haven’t played in nearly 10 days and that lengthy layoff could affect their performance. The Bruins, meanwhile, have considerable veteran experience in Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand, as well as some rising talent led by David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy. While the Jackets have the potential to pull off another upset, I believe the Bruins’ depth and physical style can see them through. Prediction: Bruins in six.

Dallas Stars vs St. Louis Blues. Careful, these underdogs bite! The Stars upset the Nashville Predators in six games while the Blues needed six games to down the Winnipeg Jets.

Entering 2019 at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, the Blues rode the solid play of rookie goalie Jordan Binnington and the aggressive forechecking system of interim coach Craig Berube into the playoffs. Their victory over the Jets was largely a team effort, especially in Game 6 when they neutralized Winnipeg’s offense for most of that contest. 

The Stars also had their ups-and-downs this season but goaltender Ben Bishop was consistently strong between the pipes. Nominated for the Vezina Trophy, Bishop is tied for second in goals-against average (1.90) and sits second in save percentage (.945) among playoff starters. Should he and core players Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and John Klingberg carry over their strong opening-round performances into this series, they should advance to the Conference Finals. Prediction: Stars in five.

Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Islanders. Another underdog that exceeded expectations, the Hurricanes defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in one of the most entertaining series of the opening round. The Islanders, meanwhile, finished ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the standings but their sweep of the Pens still surprised many observers.

The Isles are coming off a lengthy layoff and could find it difficult to get back into a series mindset. Still, I have a feeling they’re going to win this one. Vezina Trophy nominee Robin Lehner leads all playoff goalies in GAA (1.47) and save percentage (.956). Their physical defensive system matches up well against the Hurricanes’ blueline depth. They also pack a deceptive offensive punch led by Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson.

The Hurricanes are a plucky, likable bunch who’ve beaten the odds thus far. They’ve got a speedy core of young scorers like Sebastian Aho, Warren Foegele and Teuvo Teravainen and an impressive defense featuring Dougie Hamilton, Justin Faulk and the under-appreciated Jaccob Slavin. The Canes have a bright future but I don’t think goalie Petr Mrazek can outduel Lehner and I doubt Hurricanes bench boss Rod Brind’amour can out-coach the Isles’ Barry Trotz. Prediction: Islanders in five.

Colorado Avalanche vs San Jose Sharks. By snuffing out the Calgary Flames in the opening round, the Avalanche became another opening-round underdog that pulled off a big upset in this postseason. Meanwhile, the Sharks overcame a 3-1 series deficit and a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

A number of players on the Sharks’ current roster were part of their march to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. They’ve got considerable experience and skill throughout their lineup. Goaltender Martin Jones was lousy through the first four games against Vegas but superb during their three straight victories to win that series.

Led by young superstars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, the Avs are a young team on the rise. They’re also getting strong goaltending from Philipp Grubauer, who seems to be finally coming into his own as a starter. Still, I think the Sharks’ experienced depth and playoff leadership will win out in this series. Prediction: Sharks in six.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Opening Round Predictions

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Wednesday, April 10. Here are my predictions for each of the eight opening-round series. As always, bear in mind that I don’t take predictions seriously and these are merely for fun. Feel free to offer up your predictions in the comments section below.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning dominated the standings this season, winning their first Presidents’ Trophy and tying the league record for most wins (62) in a season. They have a very deep roster featuring the league’s leading scorer (Nikita Kucherov), the reigning Norris Trophy winner (Victor Hedman) and a potential Vezina Trophy candidate (Andrei Vasilevsky).

The Blues Jackets needed the second-last game of the season to clinch a playoff spot. They acquired Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Adam McQuaid before the trade deadline but the moves didn’t significantly improve them. They were swept by the Lightning in the season series and outscored 17-3. The Jackets will be gamers but they lack the depth to upset the Bolts. Prediction: Lightning in four.

Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs The Lightning’s dominance in the East overshadowed a strong performance by the Bruins. They possess one of the league’s top scoring lines in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. The Bruins can also rely on a solid defense corps and two dependable goaltenders in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.

The Leafs also have considerable firepower, led by John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews. Defensive depth, especially on the right side, is a concern. Starting goalie Frederik Andersen’s heavy workload and a lack of a reliable backup is another worrying issue. Prediction: Bruins in six

Washington Capitals vs Carolina Hurricanes. For the first time in 10 years, the Hurricanes reached the playoffs. They have talented young forwards such as Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov and a deep blueline corps, the Hurricanes are an entertaining bunch that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The Capitals could find it difficult to repeat as Stanley Cup champions but they have the talent to pull it off. Led by captain Alex Ovechkin, centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, defenseman John Carlson and goalie Braden Holtby, their championship roster from last season remains largely intact. Their depth in experienced talent should see them through. Prediction: Capitals in five.

New York Islanders vs Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders defied the odds this season by clinching a playoff berth and home-ice advantage in the opening round. Under coach Barry Trotz, they’ve significantly improved on the blueline and between the pipes, with Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss having the league’s lowest goals-against average.

It’s been an up-and-down season for the Penguins, who weren’t assured of a playoff spot until the final week of the season. They still possess plenty of postseason experience and offensive skill, led by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Goaltender Matt Murray played well down the stretch, which should provide them with a much-needed edge. Prediction: Penguins in seven.

Western Conference

Calgary Flames vs Colorado Avalanche. For the first time in 30 years, the Flames topped the Western Conference. Led by Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk, the Flames are a dangerous offensive club. They also have a strong blueline corps anchored by captain Mark Giordano. Goaltenders Mike Smith and David Rittich, however, have been inconsistent.

The Avs squeaked into the playoffs in the final week of the season. Of late, they’ve received stellar goaltending from Philipp Grubauer. They also have potent first-line scoring punch with Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, though the latter’s been sidelined since mid-March. The Avs could make a series of it but they won’t be a match for the Flames’ depth. Prediction: Flames in five.

Nashville Predators vs Dallas Stars. The Predators finished atop the Central Division for the second straight season, but they’re not the dominating club that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. Injuries to Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and P.K.Subban contributed to a decline in scoring, especially on the power-play.

While the Stars have their own offensive depth issues, they could pull off an upset. Ben Bishop posted the league’s best save percentage (.934) and second-best goals-against (1.98) plus he has plenty of postseason experience. If he can stay healthy and if captain Jamie Benn rediscovers his playoff beast mode from three years ago, the Stars could surprise in the opening round. Prediction: Stars in six.

Winnipeg Jets vs St. Louis Blues. Following last season’s march to the Western Conference Finals, the Jets looked like Canada’s best hope to end its 26-year Cup drought. However, they stumbled down the stretch and fell out of first in the Central. Injuries to Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey hampered their blueline while goaltender Connor Hellebuyck faced a league-high 2,051 shots.

The Blues, meanwhile, soared from dead last in the West on New Year’s Day into third in the Central. Interim head coach Craig Berube instilled a more aggressive puck-possession system while mid-season call-up Jordan Binnington provided them with much-needed clutch goaltending. The Blues are rolling while the Jets seem to be fading. Prediction: Blues in six.

San Jose Sharks vs Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights aren’t surprising anyone as they did in their debut a year ago, but they’re still a very good team. Marc-Andre Fleury is among this season’s top goaltenders. The addition of two-way winger Mark Stone at the trade deadline provided a welcome boost to the forward lines.

While a potent offense and a solid blueline carried the Sharks to second overall in the Conference, goaltending is their Achilles’ heel. Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have not performed well this season. If Jones cannot regain the form that carried the Sharks to the 2016 Cup Final, they will make an early exit. Prediction: Golden Knights in seven

Taking a Moment to Appreciate the 2018-19 Lightning

With the start of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs over a week away, the Tampa Bay Lightning are completing one of the greatest regular-season performances in NHL history.

With 59 wins and four games remaining in their schedule, they’re poised to become only the third team to reach the 60-win plateau in a season. They also have a shot at breaking the single-season record of 62, set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96.

NHL scoring leader Nikita Kucherov is among the core players responsible for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s dominant performance this season (Photo via NHL Images)

With 122 points, they could become the first team in the salary-cap era to exceed 124 points. They clinched the  Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular season record on March 18. As of March 30, they hold a 19-point lead in the overall standings.

The Lightning not only dominates as a team but also at the individual player level.

They’re the only club with three players – Forwards Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point – who’ve reached or exceeded 90 points this season. Kucherov (122 points) has the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s scoring leader sewn up. He’s also the first player to reach 120 points since Sidney Crosby in 2006-07. Stamkos and Point, meanwhile, have reached the 40-goal mark.

In goal, the Lightning possesses a potential Vezina Trophy candidate in Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was also a finalist for the award last season. Meanwhile, 2018 Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman patrols the blueline along with potential Norris candidate Ryan McDonagh.

Entering the 2019 playoffs as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, the Lightning skate in rarefied air. Taking home the Cup would cap a dream season, placing them among the NHL’s greatest single-season teams.

And yet, some NHL followers seem skeptical over the Lightning’s chances of winning Lord Stanley mug. They recall how those ’95-’96 Red Wings were defeated in the 1996 Western Conference Finals against the Colorado Avalanche.

No one’s suggesting the Lightning will have an easy road to the Cup. The playoffs are a two-month, four-round slog that can tax the limits of even the deepest roster.

Holding the best record in the regular season often doesn’t translate into postseason success. Of the 32 previous Presidents’ Trophy winners, only eight went on to win the Cup.

The Lightning also has their own recent history of playoff futility to deal with. They reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and two Eastern Conference Finals (2016, 2018) but came up short each time.

But if the Lightning can pull it off, it will be a significant achievement, one make rare in the NHL’s salary-cap era. 

Because of the cap, this season will be the last time this current Lightning club will get a shot at the Cup. With over $73 million invested in 16 players for 2019-20, they must shed salary to re-sign restricted free agents like Point, Cedric Paquette, and Adam Erne, plus they must re-sign or replace unrestricted free agent defensemen Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, and Braydon Coburn.

Next summer, they’ll probably have to free up more cap space to re-sign Vasilevskiy while promising defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak will seek significant raises coming off their entry-level contracts.

Winning the Stanley Cup would be the fitting capstone to the Lightning’s remarkable season. And if they win it, hockey fans should take a moment to appreciate the achievement. It could be years before we see another team like the 2018-19 Lightning again. 

Defense Will Derail Leafs Cup Hopes

Sorry, Toronto Maple Leafs fans, but the headline says it all.

Following the Leafs 6-2 loss last Monday to the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star reported they had a record of 7-14-1 against this season’s top-10 defensive clubs.

That loss to the Lightning occurred during a week where the Leafs dropped three of four games while giving 23 goals. Two of those losses came to non-contenders, one of whom (Ottawa Senators) is the worst team in the league.

In the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs, the Leafs will likely face the Bruins – one of those top-10 defensive clubs – in the opening round. They eliminated Toronto from the opening round of last year’s postseason and beat them in three of four matchups this season.

Yes, the Leafs are a better club than they were a year ago. So are the Bruins.

Even if the Leafs defeat the Bruins, their next opponent will likely be the powerhouse Lightning, another of those top-10 defensive teams.

That doesn’t bode well for Toronto’s chances of ending their 52-year Stanley Cup drought.

To be fair, the flu has reportedly ravaged the Leafs’ lineup of late, which would explain in part their sub-par performances last week. Having regular defensemen Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott on the sidelines also doesn’t help their blueline depth.

Gardiner is often unappreciated by Leafs fans, who made him the scapegoat for last spring’s Game 7 playoff meltdown against Boston. While his defensive play can be questionable, there’s no doubt they miss his puck-moving abilities right now.

A month before the trade deadline, the Leafs acquired Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings. While he provides experienced depth and skill on the left side, he cannot fix that yawning lack of depth on the right side, currently patrolled by Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, and Igor Ozhiganov or Justin Holl.

Hainsey, 37, is a dependable veteran blueliner. At this stage in his career, however, he shouldn’t be logging top-pairing minutes. That’s as true now as it was a year ago.

Zaitsev remains defensively suspect. Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry considers him a forward masquerading as a defenseman. Ozhiganov is a 26-year-old Russian rookie who’s never skated in the Stanley Cup playoffs before. Holl, 27, is a minor-leaguer with all of eight NHL games under his belt.

Ah, but anything can happen in the playoffs and upsets can happen, right?

Sometimes, yes. Usually, no.

Expecting the Leafs’ overmatched right-side defenders to magically overcome their weaknesses through the grueling four-series, two-month slog that is the Stanley Cup playoffs is a recipe for disappointment.

But the goaltending of Frederik Andersen will bail them out, just like he’s done all year long, right?

Andersen’s a terrific goaltender but he’s also among the league’s busiest this season. That was also the case in 2017-18, and when the playoffs rolled around, Andersen seemed to have little left in the tank. He gave up 23 goals in seven games, including five in the opening game against the Bruins and six in the final one.

Yes, Andersen could bail them out, but he’ll have to elevate his game to previously unknown heights to offset his porous blueline.

This is a problem that stretches back to last season, one that’s gone largely unaddressed and will remain so until after the playoffs.

Even then, they probably won’t have the salary-cap space to give the problem the attention it deserves. Not when leading scorer Mitch Marner is due to receive a hefty raise, while restricted free agent forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson will also seek a bump in pay.

Hainsey and Gardiner could also depart this summer via unrestricted free agency. General manager Kyle Dubas will have to get creative to re-sign or replace those two.

That could mean trading one of their high-salaried forwards not named Matthews, Marner or John Tavares. Yes, Dubas said he wouldn’t trade William Nylander as long as he was in charge, but he wouldn’t be the first GM in NHL history to change his mind about one of his supposed untouchables.

The lack of quality defense, especially on the right side of their blueline, derailed the Leafs in last year’s playoffs. Barring a Conn Smythe Trophy effort by Andersen, it’ll do so again this season.

And unless they can find a way to free up sufficient salary-cap room to bolster their right side this summer, it’ll derail them next year, too.