The Best and Worst NHL Unrestricted Free Agent Signings of 2019
The Wild hire Bill Guerin as their new general manager, the Senators re-sign Colin White, the Islanders sign Derick Brassard and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TWINCITIES.COM: The Minnesota Wild yesterday named Bill Guerin as their new general manager. Guerin spent 18 seasons as an NHL player and the past decade as an executive with the Pittsburgh Penguins, including the past five years as assistant GM.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Wild hope Guerin, a proven winner as a player and in management, can right the ship and change the culture after they missed the playoffs last season. He didn’t waste any time getting started, re-signing forward Joel Eriksson Ek to a two-year, $2.975-million contract.
Guerin must also re-sign restricted free agent winger Kevin Fiala. He must decide if defenseman Jared Spurgeon still has a future with the Wild as he enters the final season of his contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: White is considered a core player for the rebuilding Senators. The 22-year-old played 23 games between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Last season was his first full NHL campaign and he didn’t disappointed, tallying 41 points in 71 games to finish fifth among NHL rookies.
A swift, versatile two-way forward, White should prove worthy of his new contract over the next six years. Given his upside, this deal could turn into a bargain for the Sens.
NEW YORK POST: The New York Islanders yesterday signed center Derick Brassard to a one-year, $1.2-million contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: So much for recent speculation claiming Brassard was on the verge of joining the Edmonton Oilers. The Isles hope the 31-year-old will provide some much-needed depth at center on their bottom-six.
MILE HIGH HOCKEY: (stick tap to Shawn Lamba) cites a report out of Finland indicating Colorado Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen “is set to travel to Hamar, Norway next week to begin training with Storhamar of the GET league.” Rantanen reportedly intends to keep his options open if a new contract with the Avalanche isn’t in place when training camp opens next month. Meanwhile, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston believes a new contract with the Avs isn’t far off.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The site reports Rantanen is believed seeking an annual average value in the range of $10 million. There’s also speculation he could get a four-year deal worth around $9 million per season. We’ll find out soon enough when Rantanen is signed and for how much for how long.
TSN: cites The Columbus Dispatch’s Brian Hedger reporting Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski seeks a three-year contract with an annual salary-cap hit around $5 million.
Hedger also said he’s heard Philadelphia Flyers blueliner Ivan Provorov’s camp has asked for $10 million per season, likely on a long-term contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Werenski probably thinks he’s not going to get more than Seth Jones’ $5.4 million AAV as Jones is a better all-around rearguard. As for Provorov, I’ll be stunned if the Flyers pay him $10 million annually. He’s a talented defenseman yet to reach his full potential but he’s not worth that much.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: The Carolina Hurricanes are still awaiting word from winger Justin Williams if he’ll return for another season. GM Don Waddell said he doesn’t want to set a deadline for Williams to reach a decision but noted time is getting short. Williams, meanwhile, is visiting family in Northern Ontario and has “nothing to report.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Wouldn’t surprise me if Williams makes his decision following the Labor Day weekend.
TSN: Former Washington Capitals winger Dmitrij Jaskin is expected to sign with the KHL’s Moscow Dynamo.
SPORTING NEWS: Mark Pavelich, a member of the 1980 USA “Miracle on Ice” team and a former NHL player, was arrested Monday for reportedly attacking a neighbor with a metal pole following a fishing trip.
The charges include “second- and third-degree assault, possession of an illegal shotgun and possessing a gun with a scratched off serial number.” Pavelich was ordered by a Minnesota judge to undergo a mental evaluation before standing trial.
Updates on Mitch Marner, Torey Krug, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Derick Brassard in today’s NHL rumor mill.
MARNER CAMP TALKS TO SWISS CLUB
TSN: Darren Dreger yesterday reported via Twitter that the representatives for Mitch Marner have spoken with Swiss League club ZSC Lions about training with them next month. There’s been little progress in contract talks between the Marner camp and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Dreger also said Marner could pay the insurance premium and attend Leafs training camp next month without a contract. “What a circus that would be,” he said. Dreger also suggested trade interest in the 22-year-old winger “will grow as well as days go by.”
The Lions released a statement yesterday confirming Marner’s European agent sought permission to participate in their practices. “Whether and when the player will train with Zurich is not decided yet.”
It’s believed the Leafs have discussed three, six, and seven-year deals with the Marner camp worth between $9 to $11 million annually.
TORONTO SUN: Lance Hornby believes all this posturing could come to nothing by the end of Leafs camp. By then, the club will have made another trade to get close to Marner’s $11 million or activate $10.55 million in cap space by placing Nathan Horton and David Clarkson on long-term injury reserve.
SPORT-EXPRESS’ Igor Eronko tweeted Marner wasn’t drafted in the KHL so he could sign with any KHL club he wishes. “Some of them could offer much more than Zurich or any other Swiss team. Avangard did a lot to land William Nylander but he was set to sign with the Leafs. Is Mitch set?”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This looks like an insurance move by Marner’s reps. If there’s no deal in place when camp opens next month, I doubt he’ll attend without a contract. Should it take until the start of the season to get a new contract in place with the Leafs, he’ll need a team to practice with. It ensures he can stay sharp and close to NHL-ready when the season begins.
Some teams could call the Leafs to inquire about Marner’s availability. However, they’ll have to make a significant offer to tempt general manager Kyle Dubas. Any club interested in Marner must also ensure they have sufficient cap space to pay him what he seeks.
I doubt Marner signs with a KHL team. He wants to play in the NHL, preferably with the Leafs, but he also wants to get what he believes is a fair price for his services.
NO CONTRACT TALKS YET BETWEEN BRUINS AND KRUG
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Jimmy Murphy cites an NHL source claiming there have been no new contract extension talks between the Bruins and Torey Krug. The 28-year-old defenseman is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next July. He’s in the final season of a four-year, $21-million contract.
Murphy speculates the lack of communication could be tied to the Bruins’ ongoing efforts to re-sign blueliners Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. He thinks Krug could command up to $9 million annually on the open market and wonders if the Bruins can afford to retain him.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Krug’s UFA status will make him the subject of some trade speculation throughout this season. If the Bruins are out of playoff contention by the February trade deadline, maybe they’ll consider shopping the rearguard. Otherwise, they could retain Krug for another run at the Stanley Cup next spring and deal with his contract situation afterward.
LATEST ON THE OILERS
TSN: reports Jesse Puljujarvi still seeks a fresh start away from the Edmonton Oilers. He told Finnish TV station Laari he’s hoping for a top-six forward role with a new NHL team. “I want a team where I get a place in one of the first two lines and where I get to play for 15 minutes per game. Then I could show what I’m going for. That is my main goal.”
Puljujarvi also admitted he’s struggled to learn English since coming to North America in 2016. Meanwhile, his agent insists his client isn’t bluffing about wanting a trade out of Edmonton. “Puljujärvi is and has been convinced that he needs a change. He is an NHL player,” said agent Markus Lehto on Monday. “This is about getting an opportunity for a new start. The salary can be almost anything.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t doubt the Puljujarvi camp is sincere about their trade request. However, he’s coming off a disappointing performance throughout his entry-level contract and holds no leverage here. He’s not a core Oilers player and his trade value is low right now. Until Oilers GM Ken Holland finds what he considers a decent return, I doubt he’ll move Puljujarvi.
I’m hearing in Edmonton that Derick Brassard is about to sign a 1 year deal with @EdmontonOilers! Great signing! J’entends du côté de Edmonton que Derick Brassard serait sur le point de signer un contract de 1 an avec les Oilers! Bonne signature! pic.twitter.com/IfSjbs6JbY
— Georges Laraque (@GeorgesLaraque) August 20, 2019
Update on the best available unrestricted free agents in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE SCORE: recently updated their list of the top available NHL unrestricted free agents by position.
Thomas Vanek, Patrick Marleau, and Pat Maroon top their list of left-wingers. Joe Thornton, Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, and Riley Sheahan are their notable centers. The noteworthy right-wingers include Justin Williams and Jason Pominville.
Jake Gardiner, Niklas Kronwall, Ben Hutton, and Dion Phaneuf remain among the available defensemen while Cam Ward is the noteworthy goaltender.
NHL.COM: lists Williams, Marleau, and Thornton as the best available forwards, Gardiner, Hutton, Kronwall, and Phaneuf as the top defensemen, and Ward the best available goaltender.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Nothing’s changed with this listing since late July. Kevin Shattenkirk was briefly on this list following his buyout by the New York Rangers but was quickly signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Gardiner is still the best player on the open market. There’s some speculation suggesting he could return to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some think he’s got a “handshake agreement” with a team that’s waiting to clear sufficient salary-cap to fit him in. Considering how slow things are right now, we probably won’t find out where Gardiner lands until training camps open next month.
The Hurricanes are still awaiting word whether Williams intends to return for another season or retire. He’s not expected to consider playing with another NHL club this season.
It’s assumed Thornton and Marleau will sign with the San Jose Sharks. With over $4.6 million in salary-cap space and all their other roster players under contract, the Sharks can afford to sign the duo to affordable one-year, bonus-laden contracts.
There’s talk the Edmonton Oilers could have interest in Brassard as a checking-line center. It’s rumored his representatives seek $4-million per season. At this stage, he’ll be lucky to get half that salary on a one-year deal.
Maroon recently said he hasn’t ruled out a return with the St. Louis Blues. Earlier this summer, it was reported he sought a two-year deal but the Blues are only interested in offering a one-year contract.
The Detroit Red Wings are reportedly willing to bring back Kronwall for one more season. That’ll depend upon whether the oft-injured blueliner feels he’s healthy enough for one last NHL campaign.
Some of the players on this list could end up accepting professional tryout offers when training camps open. We’ve already seen a trickle of those signings coming in. The most notable include the Toronto Maple Leafs signing former Philadelphia Flyers Michal Neuvirth and Matt Read to PTOs.
Updates on the Oilers, Penguins, and Flyers in today’s Sunday NHL rumor roundup.
THE ATHLETIC: Allan Mitchell explored what could be in store for Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland over the next seven months. If Holland decides to add a forward via free agency, Mitchell listed Derick Brassard and Thomas Vanek among the affordable remaining UFA options.
Holland will have to figure out what to do with Jesse Puljujarvi, who’s threatened to stay in Europe if he’s not traded before the start of the season. Mitchell notes Holland has a history of extreme patience in such matters, as he outwaited Jiri Hudler nearly a decade ago during his tenure as GM of the Detroit Red Wings.
If the Oilers become sellers at next year’s trade deadline, Mitchell speculated Holland could gauge the trade value of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Adam Larson, who are slated to become UFAs in 2021. If Holland becomes a buyer, perhaps he’ll pursue a forward like Florida’s Mike Hoffman or Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Holland’s had a busy, largely productive offseason, including shipping Milan Lucic to Calgary for James Neal. It’ll be interesting to see what else he could have in store over the coming season. Of course, much will depend upon the Oilers’ on-ice performance.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Kurt Leavins notes the Oilers could still use some help at center. He reports they have some interest in UFA Derick Brassard but his camp is “far in excess ($4m) of what the Oilers are willing to pay.” He’s also heard the Montreal Canadiens could have some interest.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Brassard’s not getting $4 million from the Oilers or anyone else this summer.
THE ATHLETIC: Josh Yohe recently reported of mutual interest between the Pittsburgh Penguins and defenseman Marcus Pettersson regarding a long-term contract. General manager Jim Rutherford said a deal will be completed soon but acknowledged he’ll have to do something to free up sufficient salary-cap space.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Penguins sit just over $157K above the $81.5-million salary cap. PIttsburgh fans would love to see defenseman Jack Johnson traded but that seems unlikely. Forwards Nick Bjugstad ($4.1-million annual average value) and Bryan Rust ($3.5 million AAV) frequently surfaced in this summer’s rumor mill.
THE ATHLETIC: Charlie O’Connor recently observed the Philadelphia Flyers will have eight NHL-caliber defensemen on their blueline once restricted free agent Ivan Provorov is re-signed. They could end up moving one of them before the start of the season, leaving Samuel Morin or Robert Hagg expendable.
Updates on Jake Gardiner and Nikita Gusev, plus five players who could need training camp to get new contracts in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WHY IS GARDINER STILL UNSIGNED?
TSN: Bryan Hayes and Mike Johnson discussed why former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner remains unsigned. Johnson said he’d heard whispers suggesting Gardiner enjoyed playing for the Leafs so much he’d prefer taking a lesser deal for Toronto. Hayes wondered if he’d accept a one-year deal to bolster his value for next summer’s market.
Hayes considers Gardiner a top-four defenseman on most teams in the league and doesn’t believe he’s not getting calls. His back, which was injured last season, could be an issue but Hayes isn’t convinced that’s the case.
Hayes feels Gardiner wants to play for a specific club and believes it’s the Leafs, despite the flak he sometimes got from fans and media. Both men point out the blueliner was very popular with his Leafs teammates.
Both agree it could depend upon the outcome of Mitch Marner’s contract talks. Johnson also wondered if the Montreal Canadiens could be a destination for Gardiner if there’s no deal to be had with the Leafs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ve assumed Gardiner became the odd man out in the musical chairs that is the NHL UFA market. In other words, the teams that might have had interest in him no longer have sufficient cap space to sign him to a lucrative long-term deal. That would force Gardiner to accept a short-term deal for below market value. I also felt last season’s back injury might have scared off potential suitors.
Hayes and Johnson, however, believe something else is afoot. They raise good points about Gardiner’s back and the possibility he prefers returning to the Leafs or only playing in specific markets. Nevertheless there hasn’t been a peep from the blueliner or his representatives that he’s close to inking a new deal.
I don’t see Gardiner returning to the Leafs unless Marner accepts a very affordable bridge deal, which I doubt he will. Still, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has done a good job juggling his club’s limited salary-cap space this summer. Maybe he’s got one more trick up his sleeve that could bring Gardiner back for one more year.
GUSEV COULD STAY IN THE KHL
TSN: cites a report from a Russian news outlet indicating the agent for winger Nikita Gusev will advise his client to remain in the KHL if he isn’t re-signed by the Vegas Golden Knights or traded before a set date. Yuri Nikolaev said he’s aware the Golden Knights have received trade offers for his client but Gusev prefers to re-sign with Vegas. The two sides are reportedly around $2 million apart, with Gusev seeking $4 million and the Knights offering up $2 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It appears Gusev’s agent is trying to speed things along for his client. Over two weeks ago, it appeared the Russian winger’s NHL rights were on the verge of being traded but things have gone quiet since then. The Golden Knights’ limited salary-cap space could force Gusev to accept their offer if he’s determined to play in the NHL this season.
FIVE NHL VETERANS WHO COULD NEED TRAINING CAMP TO GET NEW CONTRACTS.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Derick Brassard and Andrew MacDonald top Jared Clinton’s recent list of five veteran NHLers who could need training camp to land new contracts. Riley Sheahan, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Tobias Rieder round out the list.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I wouldn’t be surprised if all five accept professional tryout offers if they remain unsigned when September rolls around. Some of them could also avoid that possibility by inking cheap one-year deals in hopes of bolstering their value for next summer.