The NHL’s Buyout Barometer – Pacific Division (Part I)
More compliance buyout speculation and how the Canadiens cap space could serve them well in the off-season in today’s NHL rumor mill.
HYPOTHETICAL COMPLIANCE BUYOUT CANDIDATES
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox reports the anticipation of the 2020-21 NHL salary cap taking a COVID-19 hit has generated speculation the league and the NHL Players Association could agree to the implementation of compliance contract buyouts. He listed 11 hypothetical amnesty buyout candidates, with Vancouver’s Loui Eriksson ($6 million annual average value through 2021-22) topping the list. With Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Tyler Toffoli and others to re-sign, a compliance buyout window would help the Canucks.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canucks were rumored looking into trading Eriksson last summer, but couldn’t find any takers for his contract. Given the complications they’ll face if the salary cap remains at $81.5 million, he’ll be a prime compliance buyout candidate.
Others could include Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader ($4.25 million AAV through 2022-23), Chicago’s Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million AAV through 2023-24) provided he’s recovered from his recent surgeries, Calgary’s Milan Lucic ($6 million through 2023-24), Montreal’s Karl Alzner ($4.625 million through 2021-22), and the New York Islanders’ Andrew Ladd ($5.5 million through 2022-23).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox points out the Wings can afford to absorb Abdelkader and Frans Nielsen ($5.25 million AAV through 2021-22), but general manager Steve Yzerman could avail himself of the opportunity to shed the expensive contracts of fading veterans.
if Seabrook hasn’t been medically cleared to return to action during the buyout period (whenever that might be), the Blackhawks won’t be able to avail themselves of that option. Lucic, Alzner, and Ladd are probably goners. The Isles attempted to trade Ladd to the Minnesota Wild as part of a complicated deal for Zach Parise at the trade deadline.
Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo ($6 million AAV through 2022-23), Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million AAV through 2025-26), the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist (one year at $8.5 million), Edmonton’s James Neal ($5.75 million through 2022-23) and Anaheim’s David Backes ($6 million for one more season) round out this list.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I can see those guys receiving compliance buyouts. A couple of readers questioned Bobrovsky being a candidate when I wrote about this in an earlier Rumor update, claiming he’s the victim of the Panthers’ woeful defense.
That’s as may be, but there’s no denying the two-time Vezina Trophy winner has struggled over the last two years. His performance this season was not the Panthers’ front office banked on when they signed him to that whopping big contract.
There’s talk that ownership will want to slash payroll if they miss the playoffs this season. An amnesty buyout for Bobrovsky would be the easiest option.
LATEST ON THE CANADIENS
SPORTSNET: Eric Engels believes the Montreal Canadiens could be well-positioned to use their cap space to their advantage once the salary-cap figures are determined for 2020-21.They have over $63 million invested in 16 players.
Re-signing restricted free agents Max Domi and Victor Mete and re-signing or replacing other free agents will have little impact upon next summer, when such notables as Tomas Tatar, Joel Armia, Jeff Petry, and Phillip Danault will become free agents. Engels suggested they’d have more flexibility if they traded Domi for a defenseman like Minnesota’s Matt Dumba.
Engels believes it’s all but assured winger Ilya Kovalchuk will return to the Canadiens on a bonus-laden deal next season. He also anticipates they’ll look to the UFA market for a reliable backup for Carey Price. He doubts they’ll go the offer-sheet route this summer, but they could target cap-strapped clubs looking to make cost-cutting trades before the start of next season, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Vegas Golden Knights.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Canadiens fans and pundits have been waiting for Bergevin to use his cap space to provide a significant boost to the roster. This summer could provide that opportunity if the cap remains flat and compliance buyouts aren’t implemented as a cost-cutting measure.
As for the suggestion of trading Domi for Dumba, the latter lacks no-trade protection, but it could be premature to believe Wild GM Bill Guerin will go that route. If he does, he’ll be shopping Dumba to the highest bidder, meaning Domi might not be enough to pry him away from the Wild.
The latest on the Islanders, several stars who may have played their final NHL games, and questions about conditional draft picks in the Sunday NHL rumor roundup.
ISLANDERS WOULD MATCH OFFER SHEET FOR BARZAL
SPORTSNET: In a recent Q&A with New York Islanders fans, general manager Lou Lamoriello said it wasn’t his intention to let contract talks with Mathew Barzal reach the point where the 22-year-old center received an offer sheet from a rival club. If Barzal did sign one, however, Lamoriello said he’d match it. He remains confident in getting Barzal and fellow restricted free agents Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews re-signed.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Isles have over $71 million invested in 18 players. Assuming the salary cap remains at $81.5 million, Lamoriello will be hard-pressed to squeeze new contracts for Barzal, Pulock, and Toews within that $10 million of cap space available to him.
Matching an expensive offer sheet would gobble up almost all of that cap room. Lamoriello would get some cap wiggle room as he’s allowed to exceed the cap by 10 percent during the off-season, but he must shed salary before the start of the season to become cap compliant.
I doubt Lamoriello’s worried about a rival GM signing Barzal to an offer sheet. Most NHL clubs will feel the financial squeeze from this pandemic, leaving few with enough cap room to take a run at poaching the young Isles center.
SEVERAL STARS WHO MAY HAVE PLAYED THEIR FINAL NHL GAMES
THE ATHLETIC: New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, Anaheim Ducks goalie Ryan Miller, and Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu are among those on James Mirtle’s list of 15 NHL players who may have played their final NHL games if this season is canceled.
Others include Carolina Hurricanes winger Justin Williams, St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, and Anaheim Ducks winger David Backes.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think Lundqvist may have played his last game with the Rangers, but I can see him playing with another NHL club if he waives his no-movement clause or is bought out of his current contract. Miller turns 40 in July and I suspect the Ducks will replace him with a younger option. If he’s unwilling to leave Calfornia, he’s likely done. Koivu has already hinted at retirement.
Williams spent half this season mulling retirement before returning to the Hurricanes. He could be done after this. Bouwmeester’s recent cardiac incident has likely ended his playing career. Seabrook’s double hip surgeries place his playing career in jeopardy. Ditto Backes’ concussion history.
WHAT TO DO WITH CONDITIONAL DRAFT PICKS FROM RECENT TRADES?
TSN: Frank Seravalli recently reported there are many questions about how the NHL deals with the minutiae related to contracts and trades if the schedule is reduced or canceled. What happens with conditional draft picks involved in recent trades is among those issues.
In last summer’s deal that saw the Edmonton Oilers ship Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal, the Flames get a conditional third-round pick if Neal tallies 21 goals and Lucic under 10 this season.
“What does the NHL do moving forward here? Do they decide to prorate it? In which case Lucic would remain under 10 and Neal gets to about 23? Or do they decide to leave it as is and that’s just one of the questions at stake with regards to other bonuses in contracts and compensation? Things like expansion draft considerations and also other picks that changed hands for deals at the deadline. Can we see things like compensatory picks and such.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This issue will have to be sorted out once a final decision is reached regarding the remainder of this season and the playoffs. For now, your guess is as good as mine.
The Boston Bruins traded winger David Backes, prospect defenseman Axel Andersson, and a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to the Anaheim Ducks for winger Ondrej Kase.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With this move, the Bruins shed the contract of a fading veteran winger for a younger, more affordable option, albeit one with an injury history of his own. Backes is signed through 2020-21. The Bruins also retained 25 percent of his $6-million annual average value.
At first glance, this seems to be an overpayment on the Bruins’ part. Kase, 24, is a talented right winger, having scored 20 goals in 2017-18. However, he’s been hampered by frequent injuries during his four-year NHL career, at times sidelining him for lengthy periods.
However, it was necessary to shed the bulk of Backes’ salary. The 35-year-old winger’s performance has steadily eroded over the past four years as age and the wear-and-tear of his physical style caught up with him. His contract had become burdensome for the Bruins.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was in the market for a top-six winger for David Krejci’s line. He was reportedly interested in New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider or New Jersey Devils winger Kyle Palmieri. Those clubs, however, probably weren’t keen to take on Backes as part of the deal. Kase could fill that second-line winger role, though some think Sweeney might not be done dealing.
Ducks general manager Bob Murray was willing to use his salary-cap space to take an expensive veteran off the hands of a contender, provided they also included one or two other assets in return. While it remains to be seen if Backes has a role with the Ducks over the remainder of his contract, acquiring a first-round pick and a quality defensive prospect provides invaluable pieces to put toward rebuilding their roster.
Could the Coyotes consider shopping Taylor Hall? Are more moves in store for the Wild? What’s the latest on Chris Kreider, Joe Thornton, and David Backes? What are the Avalanche and Hurricanes up to? Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill.
COYOTES WON’T FLIP HALL BEFORE THE DEADLINE
TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the Arizona Coyotes have no intention of flipping Taylor Hall to another team before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. The Coyotes acquired the left winger in December. While some observers wonder if they’ll shop the 28-year-old Hall before the deadline, rather than risk losing him this summer to free agency, the Coyotes front office remains determined to re-sign him. LeBrun points out they can offer Hall an eight-year contract, while other clubs can only offer seven years if he tests the open market.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: None of that questioning about Hall’s future came up when the Coyotes were sitting on top of the Pacific Division a month ago. It was their recent tumble in the standings that sparked this speculation. Unless someone blows the Coyotes out of the water with an amazing offer, they have no reason to move Hall now. He’s crucial to their hopes of nailing down a playoff spot this season.
MORE MOVES COMING FOR THE WILD?
TWINCITIES.COM: Dane Mizutani reports Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin indicated any potential trade-deadline moves on his part depend upon the club’s performance leading up to deadline day. Earlier this week, Guerin shipped winger Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“If there is quit, there will be more trades,” he said Tuesday. “I wholeheartedly expect this team to compete for a playoff spot. We are right there. If there’s any signs of anybody taking their foot off the gas, that will be an indication (of what I have to do).”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Guerin’s next moves could involve defenseman Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun last night reported the Wild GM was willing to listen to offers for those two. He’s in the market for a top-line center. If the best offer he gets for either guy is a No. 2 center, LeBrun believes it has to be packaged with something else. Guerin is also willing to respect the wishes of captain Mikko Koivu. He carries a no-movement clause and is reportedly leaning toward staying in Minnesota.
UPDATE ON KREIDER
TSN: Bob McKenzie reports there’s some growing sense of optimism the New York Rangers might re-sign winger Chris Kreider now that contract talks have begun. However, he cautions it’s going to be difficult for the Rangers to pay what Kreider is looking for. He feels it could still go either way.
If the Rangers re-sign Kreider, McKenzie speculates they could be forced to shop some combination of restricted free agents Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo by the deadline or during the off-season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Rangers have almost $65 million invested in 14 players for 2020-21. If Kreider seeks around $6 million annually (it could be more) on a long-term deal, their cap payroll rises to around $71 million. Assuming next season’s salary cap reaches $84 million, that won’t leave sufficient room to re-sign all of those RFAs, especially those with arbitration rights.
BRUINS, LIGHTNING LOOKING AT THORNTON
TSN: Frank Seravalli reports the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning have reportedly had internal discussions about adding San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton to their lineup. Thornton’s spent 1,089 games with the Sharks, so any decision to join a playoff contender will be up to him. If he’s uninterested, that’s the end of it.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Just because the Bruins and Lightning have looked at Thornton doesn’t mean he’s the only player on their radar before the trade deadline. Their focus is likely on younger options.
COULD THE BRUINS FIND A TAKER FOR BACKES?
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: cites FOX Sports’ Andy Strickland and NHL Network’s Brian Lawton claiming teams are showing interest in Bruins forward David Backes, who hasn’t played since being placed on waivers a month ago. Strickland said many of them are on his eight-team no-trade list.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I daresay teams calling about Backes are those with plenty of salary-cap room hoping to get a quality asset or two included in the return. The Bruins might also have to absorb up to half of his $6-million annual average value. We’ll find out soon enough if they’re willing to make that move to free up cap space before the trade deadline.
LATEST ON THE AVALANCHE
THE ATHLETIC: Ryan S. Clark reports it’s believed the Colorado Avalanche could attempt to acquire a second-pairing defenseman and a big, middle-six forward before the Feb. 24 deadline. Questions over the Avs’ deadline plans intensified with the news that center Nazem Kadri is listed as week-to-week with a lower-body injury. Nevertheless, Kadri’s injury won’t alter how they approach the deadline.
Clark points out the club has spent the entire season adjusting to numerous injuries. They could entertain moving one of their top prospects if the deal benefits them over the long term.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In other words, they’re not parting with Bo Byram, Martin Kaut, Shane Bowers or Conor Timmons for a rental player.
HURRICANES SEEK A HOCKEY DEAL
TSN: Pierre LeBrun reports the Carolina Hurricanes are willing to trade a draft pick for a defenseman under contract beyond this season. They’ve looked into pending UFAs like San Jose’s Brenden Dillon and New Jersey’s Sami Vatanen, but team owner Tom Dundon doesn’t like spending assets on rental players. They’ve reportedly shown interest in Minnesota’s Matt Dumba.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Hurricanes have two first-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft, though one of them is a conditional one from the Leafs that could be moved to 2021 if that pick lands in the top-10. Would they be willing to part with one of them for Dumba or a blueliner like him?
The latest on Chris Kreider and David Backes plus updates on the Blues and Ducks in today’s NHL rumor mill.
EIGHT TEAMS INTERESTED IN KREIDER
TSN: Pierre LeBrun believes at least eight teams have expressed interest in New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider. The Rangers’ asking price could be similar to what they got for Kevin Hayes last season, which was a young NHL player and a first-round draft pick. The club is still hopeful of re-signing the pending UFA winger, but there haven’t been any contract discussions yet.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: LeBrun didn’t name those eight clubs, but various reports in recent weeks linked Kreider to the Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights. We don’t know how serious their interest in the Rangers’ winger could be.
I suspect the Bruins, Avalanche, Penguins, and Blues could be the front-runners. Kreider has an 11-team no-trade list, which could determine where he goes if the Rangers shop him before deadline day. Speaking of the Blues…
THE ATHLETIC: Jeremy Rutherford recently included Kreider on his list of potential trade targets for the St. Louis Blues. Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli, Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Columbus’ Josh Anderson also made the list. He also included Arizona’s Taylor Hall, though he acknowledged the left winger won’t be going anywhere as long as the Coyotes remain in playoff contention.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Armstrong recently indicated much will depend upon when sidelined winger Vladimir Tarasenko returns to the lineup from shoulder surgery. If he’s not due back until the playoffs, that’ll provide the Blues GM with sufficient trade-deadline cap room to pursue another forward.
BACKES ON THE BLOCK?
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Joe Haggerty weighed in on David Backes not reporting to the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence, noting the club is fine with it. He also speculates they don’t want the veteran forward risking another injury that would prevent him from getting moved before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
The Bruins would have to absorb up to half of Backes’ $6-million annual average salary to move him, plus include a sweetener like a draft pick or a prospect. However, some non-contending clubs (such as the Anaheim Ducks) have indicated they’re willing to take on extra salary for the right price.
One of them is the Anaheim Ducks, who have a winger like Ondrej Kase and a defenseman like Josh Manson who could address the Bruins’ needs. Haggerty notes the Bruins and Ducks have recently scouted each other.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Ducks might be interested only in taking on a high-salaried player who’s on an expiring contract this season. Backes has another season left on his deal. His eight-team trade list could also complicate matters.
The Bruins need second-line scoring, but they could be eyeing a healthier option than the oft-injured Kase. And speaking of the Ducks and what contracts they might be willing to take from other clubs…
SOME SUGGESTED DUCKS TRADE TARGETS
THE ATHLETIC: Eric Stephens recently examined how the Ducks could weaponize their cap space to take on a bothersome contract packaged with some future assets. Among his suggested options were Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Ceci, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Alex Galchenyuk, Boston Bruins winger Danton Heinen, or Arizona Coyotes winger Michael Grabner.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stephens was merely spitballing here. He’s not saying the Ducks are targeting those players. Nevertheless, we can’t rule out the possibility they’ll try to exploit a cap-strapped playoff contender that’s trying to free up cap room to bolster their roster.