The dog days of the NHL offseason are now into late-August and training camp is less than a month away. Here’s a look back at some takeaways from some of the notable offseason news.
The behaviour of some NHL stars gave the league a black eye. There’s an enduring belief among hockey fans that NHL players are wholesome, clean-cut young men who don’t have run-ins in the law compared to athletes in other pro sports. For the most part, that’s true, but that myth suffered serious blows this summer due to off-ice incidents involving several NHL players.
Former LA Kings center Jarret Stoll was busted for drug possession in Las Vegas. Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly was charged with DUI. The Los Angeles Kings terminated center Mike Richards contract after he was involved in an incident at the Canada-US border. And the worst of all, the ongoing rape investigation involving Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane.
Of course, we shouldn’t tar all NHL players for the actions of a handful. Still, these incidents are a black eye for a league which likes to promote its players as upstanding, law-abiding citizens.
Threats of an offer sheet can scare a GM into trading a promising free agent. It used to be that a threat of an offer sheet from a rival club to a restricted free agent could sway a general manager into re-signing that player to an expensive new contract. For cap-strapped teams, however, that threat can now result in the potential RFA being traded before he becomes eligible to sign an offer sheet.
That’s what the Boston Bruins did with defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and what the Chicago Blackhawks did with left wing Brandon Saad. Hamilton was traded to the Calgary Flames, while Saad was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Don’t be surprised if more RFAs on teams with limited cap space end up hitting the trade block every June.
Big, surprising trades can still happen. Despite the limitations of the salary cap, this offseason saw several jaw-dropping trades. In addition to the previously-mentioned Hamilton and Saad deals, the Toronto Maple Leafs shipped Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh the Boston Bruins traded Milan Lucic to Los Angeles and the Colorado Avalanche traded Ryan O’Reilly to the Buffalo Sabres.
In addition, the Vancouver Canucks traded Kevin Bieksa to the Anaheim Ducks, dealt Eddie Lack to Carolina and shipped Nick Bonino and Adam Clendening to Pittsburgh for Brandon Sutter. The St. Louis Blues sent T.J. Oshie packing to Washington and the New York Rangers moved Carl Hagelin to the Ducks for Emerson Etem.
This was a bad summer to be an unrestricted free agent. This year’s pool of unrestricted free agent talent wasn’t particularly deep, but for a number of notable UFAs, this wasn’t the right summer to hit the open market.
Thanks to a marginal increase in the salary cap from $69 million to $71.4 million, many general managers were forced to become more frugal compared to previous years. As a result, they weren’t spending as much on UFA talent.
That’s why Cody Franson, Brad Boyes, Christian Ehrhoff, Marek Zidlicky, Jiri Tlusty and Curtis Glencross remain unsigned in late-August. All of them face signing contracts worth far less and much shorter than they would’ve received in previous offseasons.
Teams can trade dead cap space. That’s what the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers did in late-June. The Flyers dealt the rights to defenseman Chris Pronger, whose career was ended by injuries several years ago, to the Arizona Coyotes in a deal which also saw the Flyers ship defenseman Nicklas Grossmann to the Coyotes for center Sam Gagner. The Bruins, meanwhile, shipped the rights to center Marc Savard, whose playing career was ended by concussion symptoms, to the Florida Panthers in a deal which also sent winger Reilly Smith to the Panthers in exchange for winger Jimmy Hayes.
It’s not the first time a team has traded dead cap space Late last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets traded winger Nathan Horton, who might never play again due to a degenerative back injury, to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for winger David Clarkson and his bloated contract.
The lesson from this is simple. If you’re a GM trying to remove the salary of an all-but-retired player from your books, you can do so via trade as long as other assets are included in the deal.
Bonus-heavy contracts are a means of lockout insurance for players. Ryan O’Reilly’s new seven-year, $52.5 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres was certainly eye-catching, but it’s the breakdown of the payments that attracted the most interest. OReilly’s base salary for each season is $1 million, with the rest of his annual cap hit paid each year as signing bonuses.
This unusual salary structure is in fact a clever measure of lockout protection for O’Reilly. His contract runs through 2022-23 and the current NHL CBA expires in September 2022. If there’s another lockout, players under contract don’t receive their salaries, but their signing bonuses are paid on July 1, well before the end of the CBA.
Between now and the fall of 2022, don’t be surprised if a growing number of stars signing long-term deals through 2022-23 insist on getting a significant chunk of their pay as signing bonuses. And of course, we can expect that little loophole becoming a contentious point in the next round of collective bargaining.
The Canadian dollar continues to affect the NHL salary cap. Last December, the NHL projected the salary cap for 2015-16 could reach $73 million. By June 2015, the actual cap ceiling was $71.4 million. Blame the struggling Canadian dollar for the lower-than-expected cap ceiling.
Thanks to plummeting oil prices, the Canadian dollar tumbled from .93 cents USD in July 2014 to .77 cents USD by July 2015. With the “loonie” currently hovering close to .75 cents USD, there’s little indication it will significantly rise over the course of the 2015-16 NHL season.
As long as the Canadian dollar continues to struggle, it will continue to adversely affect the NHL salary cap.
Expansion is coming. The NHL is already in the second stage of evaluating bids for expansion franchises from Las Vegas and Quebec City. While the league maintains it’s not a certainty either city will land expansion franchises, it’s widely anticipated both locations will have NHL teams in time for the 2017-18 season.
A bid could still come from prospective owners in Seattle once they get their arena issues sorted out. If so, they’re more likely to get a relocated franchise than an expansion one.
The Arizona Coyotes saga rolls on and on. The good news for the Coyotes was they sorted out their arena lease dispute with the city of Glendale, avoiding what could’ve been a lengthy lawsuit. The bad news is the deal is only for two years, and while the Coyotes ownership is saying all the right things about a long-term future in Glendale, that’s not a certainty.
The Coyotes future in Arizona remains uncertain, which will likely continue to play havoc the club’s efforts to attract talent. It will also continue testing the patience of their long-suffering fans.
Being a hard-line team owner is somehow a contribution to hockey. Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs was awarded the 2015 Lester Patrick Trophy for his outstanding service to hockey. Well, if you consider being among the driving forces in three NHL lockouts in 20 years outstanding service to hockey, then yes, Jacobs is deserving of such an award.
Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey listed several instances where Jacobs proved himself hockey’s version of C. Montgomery Burns. In case you’re wondering, the NHL and USA Hockey determine the annual winners of the Patrick Trophy. As Jacobs was one of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s biggest allies in his battles with the NHLPA, it’s little wonder the Bruins owner received this honor.