Stanley Cup: Lightning Must Regroup Following Game 1 Loss to Stars
Possible free-agent destinations for Alex Pietrangelo, plus the latest on the Islanders and Canadiens in the Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup.
WHERE COULD PIETRANGELO GO VIA FREE AGENCY?
THE SCORE: Joel Wegman listed the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers as possible destinations for St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo if he hits the open market next month. Contract talks between Pietrangelo and the Blues broke off last week as the club advised him to pursue free agency.
Wegman acknowledged the salary-cap constraints of the Leafs and Oilers mean they’d have to shed a salary or two to sign Pietrangelo. The Bruins’ logical need is for a scorer (Wegman suggests Arizona’s Taylor Hall) but he doesn’t rule out general manager Don Sweeney signing Pietrangelo and shopping Brandon Carlo or Connor Clifton for a left-side defenseman.
The Flames would have to overpay but they have $17 million in salary-cap room. The Avalanche have plenty of cap room and Wegman suggests they could shop Ian Cole and Erik Johnson to make room for Pietrangelo and create long-term cap space to re-sign Cale Makar and Gabriel Landeskog.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some interesting suggestions from Wegman. The Leafs have been tied to Pietrangelo in the rumor mill for months. Signing him, however, requires some nifty salary-cap gymnastics by Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, which could include acquiring a player on permanent LTIR to allow them to spend over the cap ceiling.
The Oilers must improve their goaltending and add a reliable right-wing scorer. I don’t think they’ll get into the Pietrangelo sweepstakes. The Flames could try but GM Brad Treliving could be reluctant to overpay for his services.
Boston and Colorado are the intriguing ones on this list. Perhaps Sweeney gets creative as Wegman suggests, but the Avs’ Joe Sakic seems in prime position to strike. I think he should pursue an experienced starting goalie, but Pietrangelo could be that missing piece of the championship puzzle.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE ISLANDERS?
NEW YORK POST: Mollie Walker looked at the roster issues facing the New York Islanders next season. She expects UFA goalie Thomas Greiss will be replaced by promising Ilya Sorokin. UFA defenseman Andy Greene and winger Matt Martin might have to take pay cuts to stay with the Isles. Forward Derick Brassard was a healthy scratch at times during the postseason.
Center Mathew Barzal and defensemen Devon Toews and Ryan Pulock are restricted free agents. GM Lou Lamoriello said earlier this year he’d match any offer sheet for Barzal and it isn’t his intention to allow negotiations to reach that point.
NEWSDAY: Andrew Gross believes the Islanders need a top-six scorer or two who can improve their power play. Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine, Florida Panthers winger Mike Hoffman, or Arizona’s Taylor Hall could be good initial targets.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Islanders have $72.5 million invested in 20 players. Barzal’s new contract will eat up most of that remaining $8.9 million even if he agreed to an affordable bridge deal. GM Lou Lamoriello will have to shed salary just to re-sign Barzal, Toews and Pulock, which could mean bidding farewell to Martin, Greene and Brassard.
Lamoriello could get creative to add a scoring forward. However, I don’t see him being able to acquire a sniper such as Laine or sign an expensive UFA winger like Hall or Hoffman.
LATEST CANADIENS SPECULATION
TVA SPORTS: noted Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin recently said he’s interested in landing a big forward who can help his club’s offensive attack. The site listed Chicago’s Brandon Saad, Detroit’s Anthony Mantha, Columbus’ Josh Anderson, Carolina’s Nino Niedereitter, Minnesota’s Jordan Greenway and Edmonton’s Jesse Puljujarvi as power forwards who might be enticing to Bergevin.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blackhawks must shed salary to re-sign RFAs Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome as well as re-sign or replace UFA goalie Corey Crawford. They could move Saad and his $6 million cap hit for next season but could be reluctant to go that route unless they get a more affordable replacement. Some Habs fans might suggest Max Domi, but the Blackhawks are set at center with Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome, and might not see Domi as an effective substitution for Saad.
Anderson has potential but his season-ending shoulder injury could be cause for concern. Niederreiter tends to be inconsistent and at $5.25-million annually for the next two seasons would be an expensive gamble.
Puljujarvi has proven nothing yet at the NHL level. Unless the Oilers are willing to dump him for a song, Bergevin should consider more established options. I don’t believe Mantha or Greenway are available.
The Stars defeat the Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, plus highlights from Commissioner Bettman’s state-of-the-league press conference in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Anton Khudobin made 35 save (including 22 in the third period) as the Dallas Stars defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 in Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Jamie Oleksiak scored what proved to be the winning goal in the second period. Joel Hanley, Joel Kiviranta and Jason Dickinson also tallied for the Stars, while Yanni Gourde had the lone Lightning goal. Game 2 is Monday at 8 pm ET.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Stars benefited from five days off between series compared to just two for the Lightning. It was obvious through the first two periods as the Stars controlled much of the play.
The Bolts dominated the third period but Khudobin was the difference. All of Dallas’ defensemen except for Andrej Sekera picked up a point in this game, with Oleksiak and Hanley scoring two of the Stars’ four goals.
The fate of the 2021-22 season was the dominant theme in NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s annual state-of-the-league press conference prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
While the league targeted Dec. 1 as a possible start date, Bettman indicated he wouldn’t be surprised if that date moved to late December or January. No firm timetable has been established.
The league is still planning to stage a full 82-games schedule and four-round best-of-seven playoff format. “How and when we do that is something that we don’t all have enough information to make any decisions, and anything would be just sheer speculation,” said Bettman.
Bettman also said it was conceivable next season begins without fans in the arenas but transitions to some fans in the buildings as the season progresses. However, he added that was speculation at this point. Bettman noted fan attendance accounts for 50 percent of league revenues. He remains confident all 31 teams will weather the financial stress.
The commissioner said he’d prefer to stay out of staging games next summer if at all possible. “Our fans typically like watching us through the fall, winter, and into the spring, and it’s always been a goal to be done by the end of June,” he said.
Bettman indicates the league is considering all possibilities for staging next season. He said it’s premature to draw conclusions because so much depends upon government and travel restrictions between Canada and the United States.
If the 2021 Winter Classic in Minneapolis on Jan. 1 has to be postponed, the league will will make “suitable, appropriate arrangement” to make it up to Minnesota Wild fans.
This year’s expanded playoff format of 24 teams will not be continued.
Bettman said the Seattle Kraken’s entry into the league in 2021-22 won’t be delayed.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If the NHL intends on a full 82-game schedule and its usual playoff format next season, I don’t see how the league can avoid staging at least part of the playoffs next summer if the season begins sometime in January. Even an early December start would be pushing it. The only way of avoiding that is shortening the season, but the league’s broadcasting contracts could contain penalties for playing fewer games than scheduled.
Lots of options are likely on the table for how the league returns next season. There could be a lot of regional games to reduce long-distance travel in the United States, or the Canadian teams could play against themselves until such time as restrictions ease at the US-Canadian border.
It’s very important to league revenue to get fans back in the arenas in the safest way possible. As Bettman suggested, it could be a gradual transition where a limited number of fans are allowed in but are seated to ensure they are socially distanced.
I believe the league will attempt to restage the Winter Classic in Minneapolis for 2022 if they have to postpone this season’s, provide that location hasn’t already been determined.
Bettman isn’t going to acknowledge if any of the league’s 31 franchises are struggling during this pandemic. Hopefully, they can all make it through. The longer this pandemic drags on and affects league revenue, the more concern will grow.
A look at TSN’s list of 10 contracts potentially on the move in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TSN: Arizona Coyotes winger Phil Kessel, St. Louis Blues center Tyler Bozak, and Edmonton Oilers winger Andreas Athanasiou top Frank Seravalli’s list of 10 contracts potentially on the move in the offseason, based on the financial or salary-cap implications facing each club.
Kessel is owed just $5.95 million in total real dollars through 2021-22. Despite the drop in his production this season, a re-energized Kessel could be helpful to a Cup contender.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kessel’s $5-million signing bonus for 2020-21 has already been paid out, which explains why his actual salary will be so low. His full cap hit is $8 million but the Coyotes are only carrying $6.8 million because the Toronto Maple Leafs are picking up $1.2 million in retained salary as the condition for trading him to Pittsburgh in 2015.
That might make Kessel enticing for clubs seeking experienced scoring depth on right wing. However, he has a reputation as a high-maintenance player, which could hurt his trade value almost as much as this season’s sudden decline in his production.
Bozak could be a trade candidate in a retained salary transaction if the Blues decide to shed salary to re-sign defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli’s list was published before last night’s report indicating contract talks between the Blues and Pietrangelo had broken off. While they still could attempt to move Bozak to give them some additional wiggle room, there won’t be as much urgency to do so if Pietrangelo departs.
Seravalli reports the Oilers are trying to trade Athanasiou before he’s due a $3 million qualifying offer on Oct. 7. However, teams think GM Ken Holland could let him walk, which would hurt Athanasiou’s trade value.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Edmonton Journal’s David Staples believes Holland is in a bind given he parted with two second-round draft picks to acquire Athanasiou. He’s not worth $3 million, and Staples thinks Holland believes he can find a better winger than Athanasiou at a lower price. If so, he might have to let him walk and try to replace those two draft picks via the trade market.
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Troy Stecher and center Brandon Sutter, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist, and Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop fill spots four through seven on Seravalli’s list.
Stecher is a restricted free agent who could become a UFA if the Canucks opt not to qualify his rights. The Canucks would like to keep him but their pipeline of promising blueliners and salary-cap constraints could rule out a long-term commitment. Sutter, meanwhile, could be easier to move than Loui Eriksson if the Canucks are willing to retain a bit of his $4.375-million cap hit.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canucks could re-sign Stecher if they part ways with pending UFA blueliner Chris Tanev. Given GM Jim Benning’s failed efforts last year to move Eriksson, I agree that Sutter could become a trade candidate. He carries a 15-team no-trade clause, which will hamper those efforts.
Seravalli considers Hornqvist the odd man out for the Penguins as a third-line winger with a $5.3 million AAV, but noted the remaining three years on his contract could be an issue. He feels they might have to retain salary to make that work.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Agreed. I don’t see many clubs interested in picking up that full cap hit for the next three years. Another sticking point is Hornqvist’s full no-trade clause for 2020-21, though perhaps he might waive it for the right team.
Seravalli wonders where Bishop fits into the Stars’ plans, pointing out he seems to be injured when it matters most. He thinks they could find a taker for Bishop as he’s owed just $8 million in real cash over the remaining three years of his contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: That low actual salary could be enticing, but Bishop’s injury history also screams, “Buyer beware!” He also has a 10-team no-trade list, plus a no-movement clause over the remainder of his contract, meaning he’d have to be protected in next year’s expansion draft unless he agrees to waive it.
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson, Chicago Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad, and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky round out Seravalli’s list.
Johnson could be shopped in a cost-cutting deal, though he has a full no-trade clause. Saad could also be a cost-cutting casualty as the Blackhawks need to re-sign Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome plus find a starting goalie. A chronic wrist injury has likely ended Dubinsky’s career but his $5.85-million cap hit for next season could be attractive for clubs looking to use long-term injury reserve to manipulate their salary cap.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Johnson’s NTC could rule him out as a trade candidate. Most of the speculation surrounding the Lightning suggests it could be Alex Killorn (who has a modified no-trade) who could be on the moves.
Saad has a year remaining on his contract and a 10-team no-trade list. He’d be attractive to rival clubs seeking a top-six winger, but The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus said in a recent mailbag segment he’s not convinced the Blackhawks could trade him. He felt they could find extra cap room by trading or buying out Olli Maatta and Zack Smith.
The Jackets could indeed attempt to move Dubinsky’s contract to a club either looking to use LTIR to go over the cap to add another player or by a budget club looking to reach the cap floor. He’s got a 10-team no-trade list but that shouldn’t be an issue if his playing days are over.