Dubas Dazzles With Juggling of Maple Leafs’ Salary Cap
The Leafs reacquire David Clarkson’s contract, the Predators re-sign Colton Sissons to a seven-year deal, and an arbiter awards Jets forward Andrew Copp a two-year contract. Details and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TORONTO SUN: The Maple Leafs reacquired the contract of David Clarkson from the Vegas Golden Knights last night in exchange for goaltender Garret Sparks. The Leafs also received a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas continues to juggle his limited salary cap space. By taking back Clarkson’s dormant contract, Dubas can allocate his $5.25-million cap hit, and that of permanently sidelined Nathan Horton ($5.3 million), toward re-signing restricted free agent Mitch Marner by placing both on long-term injury reserve.
Some suggest the cap-strapped Leafs could start the season without Marner, place Clarkson and Horton on LTIR on the opening day of the regular season, and then re-sign the winger. It’ll be interesting to see how Dubas plays this.
As for Sparks, he’ll likely start this season with the Golden Knights’ farm club. Having lost the confidence of the Leafs coaching staff, this move gives the goaltender a chance to get his career back on track with Vegas.
LAS VEGAS SUN: Soon after trading Clarkson’s contract to Toronto, the Golden Knights signed defenseman Deryk Engelland to a one-year, bonus-laden contract. He’ll earn a base salary of $700K with performance bonuses that could take him up to $1.5 million. The move gives the Golden Knights a projected $1.025-million in cap space.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Golden Knights still have restricted free agent Nikita Gusev to re-sign, but it sounds like they’ll instead try to trade his rights. Shedding Clarkson’s cap hit makes it easier for them to make other minor salary moves if necessary without the LTIR hassle.
THE TENNESSEAN: The Nashville Predators yesterday avoided salary arbitration with Colton Sissons, re-signing the winger to a seven-year, $20-million contract. The annual average value is $2.857 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Predators GM David Poile praised Sissons work ethic, versatility, and leadership when announcing this deal. While the cap hit is reasonable, it’s an unusually long term for a role player. Some observers wonder why Sissons would agree to such a lengthy deal with that low cap hit. Perhaps it’s because he’s playing in a city where there’s no state tax. It could just be because he loves living and playing in Nashville.
TSN: An arbiter awarded Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp a two-year, $4.56-million contract. The annual average value is $2.28 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Copp sought a one-year, $2.9-million contract while the Jets pitches a two-year deal worth $1.5 million annually. The arbiter split the difference. This will affect the Jets’ efforts to re-sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. I’ll have more later today in the Rumors section.
THE DENVER POST: The Colorado Avalanche signed defenseman Anton Lindholm to a two-year, two-way contract.
TWINCITIES.COM: Former NHL forward Alex Tanguay is joining the Iowa Wild as an assistant coach.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: The Oilers added Brian Wiseman to their coaching staff. Wiseman spent several seasons as an assistant coach with the University of Michigan.
The Flyers re-sign Kevin Hayes and acquire Justin Braun, the Lightning re-sign Braydon Coburn, plus updates on Joe Thornton, Vladimir Tarasenko, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
TSN/SPORTSNET: Bob McKenzie and John Shannon report the Philadelphia Flyers re-signed forward Kevin Hayes to a seven-year, $50-million contract. The annual average value is $7.14 million. Acquired from the Winnipeg Jets earlier this month, Hayes was slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I daresay more than a few NHL general managers are cursing Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher for this one. Fletcher gave up very little (a fifth-round pick) to acquire Hayes but gave up way too much re-signing him. The 27-year-old is a versatile forward who’s tallied over 40 points in four of the past five seasons, but he’s not worth over $7 million per season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fletcher continues to bolster his blueline, having shipped Radko Gudas to Washington last Friday for Matt Niskanen. Braun, 32, is an experienced shutdown defenseman. He and Niskanen bring experience and leadership to a young Flyers defense corps. With the Braun addition and Hayes signing, Cap Friendly indicates the Flyers have over $60 million invested in 16 players.
The Sharks, meanwhile, free up over $3 million in salary-cap space. Those savings could be put toward re-signing captain Joe Pavelski.
Speaking of the Sharks, Joe Thornton expressed his desire to return with the club next season. Like Pavelski, Thornton is slated to become a UFA. “I’m a Shark,” he said. “There’s one team, and it’s here.”
ESPN.COM: The Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed defenseman Braydon Coburn to a two-year, $3.4-million contract extension. He was slated to become a UFA on July 1.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A good, affordable signing by the Lightning. Coburn was a reliable presence on the Bolts blueline this season. The 34-year-old is taking a significant pay cut from his previous $3.7-million per season. As his career winds down, the Lightning is his best chance to win a Stanley Cup.
TSN: David Clarkson submitted his 16-team no-trade list to the Vegas Golden Knights, who hope to shop his contract this week. All but retired due to injury, Clarkson has a year remaining on his deal with an AAV of $5.25 million. The cap-strapped Golden Knight must free up salary-cap room to re-sign free agents such as William Karlsson.
NEW YORK POST: Goaltender Robin Lehner remains hopeful of re-signing with the New York Islanders. An unrestricted free agent on July 1, Lehner is up for the Vezina and Masterton trophies at tonight’s NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Given the mutual willingness on both sides to get a deal done, I expect Lehner to be re-signed before his UFA eligibility date.
STLTODAY.COM: Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko suffered a shoulder injury during his club’s Stanley Cup run. It’s unclear if it’s the same shoulder that required surgery last year.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Forward Charles Hudon rejected the Canadiens’ qualifying offer. The club still retains his NHL rights.
TSN: Trent Yawney joins the Los Angeles Kings’ coaching staff.
SPORTSNET: The NHL salary cap for next season could be lower than projected. Elliotte Friedman believes the league and the PA will agree to tighten the cap for the next two seasons as they work toward a new collective bargaining agreement. A new US television agreement in 2021 could also factor into this decision.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The cap was projected to reach $83 million. There’s now talk it could be around $82 million. That will affect the efforts of cap-strapped clubs to retain key players this summer.
The limitations of the salary cap and no-movement clauses were thought to make the trading of expensive, long-term NHL contracts almost impossible. But in recent years, general managers found clever ways to deal with seemingly unmovable contracts.
A prime example is the seven-year, $36.75 million contract winger David Clarkson signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 5, 2013. Critics derided the idea of the Leafs committing so much for so long to Clarkson, a gritty 29-year-old winger with just one decent offensive season under his belt.
The term and salary breakdown (including $7 million in actual salary in years four and five) were cited as factors making Clarkson’s contract difficult to trade or buy out. Toss in the no-movement and modified no-trade clauses and the Leafs appeared to be stuck with this contract for years if Clarkson failed to play up to expectations.
Clarkson subsequently struggled through his first two seasons in Toronto, hampered by injury and his own skill limitations. However, then-Leafs general manager Dave Nonis pulled off the seemingly impossible at the 2014 trade deadline, shipping Clarkson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for winger Nathan Horton.
On the same day the Leafs signed Clarkson, the Blue Jackets inked Horton to seven-year, $37.1 million deal. Unlike Clarkson, Horton was a proven offensive talent with six straight 40-plus point seasons on his resume. He’d also helped the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011 and reach the Final two years later.
Unfortunately, a back injury derailed Horton’s career. However, he didn’t formally retire. While the Jackets would get cap relief if needed by placing him on long-term injury reserve, they still had to pay out his annual salary over the remaining term of his contract.
Rather than carry a player who was all but retired due to injury, Jackets management felt it worthwhile to move his contract for a forward with a comparable salary who could still contribute to the roster. The Leafs, meanwhile, were quite willing to carry the dead cap space of someone who would never skate for them simply to get Clarkson’s contract off their books.
In a cruel twist, however, Clarkson eventually suffered his own career-ending back injury. The Jackets were seemingly no better off than when they were carrying Horton on their books.
But fate intervened in the form of the 2017 NHL expansion draft. Clarkson agreed to waive his no-trade clause, allowing the Jackets to ship his contract, along with two draft picks, to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
The move cost the Jackets their first-round pick (twenty-fourth overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft and their second-round selection in 2019. Already stocked with good young talent, however, this proved a small price to pay to shed the final three seasons of Clarkson’s deal.
Golden Knights GM George McPhee is under no illusion that Clarkson might stage a comeback. He has the available cap space to carry the remaining term of the sidelined winger’s contract and saw an opportunity to use it to his advantage to build up his infant club’s depth for the future.
Clarkson and Horton aren’t the only inactive players whose contracts were traded in recent years. On June 27, 2015, the Philadelphia Flyers shipped defensemen Chris Pronger and Nicklas Grossmann to the Arizona Coyotes for center Sam Gagner. Pronger’s Hall of Fame career was prematurely ended by head trauma suffered during a game in October 2011.
The Flyers freed up some much-needed salary-cap space. The Coyotes, meanwhile, moved a player who no longer fit into their plans for 2015-16 and added a serviceable player in Grossmann to their talent-thin blueline.
Several days later, on July 1, 2015, the Boston Bruins shipped center Marc Savard’s contract and winger Reilly Smith to the Florida Panthers for forward Jimmy Hayes.
Like Pronger, Savard’s playing days were cut short by concussion in 2011. At the time of the trade, his contract still had two years remaining with an annual cap hit of just over $4 million. The Bruins had been placing him annually on LTIR, but like the Flyers with Pronger, found an opportunity to shed that contract in a larger deal. Nearly a year later, the Panthers dealt Savard’s contract to the New Jersey Devils (along with a 2018 second-round draft pick) for two minor leaguers.
In 2016, long-time Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk announced his NHL retirement to finish his playing career in Russia. Because he was on a plus-35 contract, the Wings wouldn’t get any relief from his $7.5 million annual cap hit for 2016-17.
Like the Flyers a year earlier, the Wings found a solution to their potential salary-cap headache with the Coyotes. During the opening round of the 2016 NHL Draft, they shipped Datysuk’s contract and their first-round pick (sixteenth overall) in to Arizona for the twentieth and fifty-third picks plus forward Joe Vitale.
Once again, the Coyotes had the cap space to take on that final season of Datsyuk’s deal, providing the Wings with some valuable cap space. They also landed themselves a quality prospect, using the first-round pick they got from Detroit to select defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
Not every supposedly difficult-to-move contract involves sidelined or retired players.
On July 1, 2015, the Leafs traded Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Nick Spaling, Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington and the Pens first-and third-round picks in the 2016 NHL draft. At the time, Kessel was entering the second season of his eight-year, $64 million contract, which also carried no-movement and modified no-trade clauses.
The Leafs had to retain $1.2 million of Kessel’s $8 million annual salary-cap hit to make the deal work. The ability for teams to retain a portion of a player’s annual average salary in the current collective bargaining agreement made it possible for this deal to go through. It’s doubtful this trade would’ve taken place under the previous CBA when salary retention wasn’t allowed.
It’s what also helped the Vancouver Canucks trade goaltender Roberto Luongo to the Florida Panthers on March 5, 2014. The Canucks agreed to pick up 15 percent ($800,000 annually) of Luongo’s annual salary-cap hit over the remaining eight years of his 12-year contract.
Granted, Luongo’s desire to be dealt and the Panthers willingness to bring him back to Florida were the major factors in getting this deal done. Still, the salary retention factor certainly helped propel things along.
Sometimes, a team’s need to address a significant roster issue can still result in a trade of a player carrying an expensive cap hit.
On June 17, the Arizona Coyotes shipped goaltender Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Chad Johnson, Brandon Hickey and a conditional draft pick. Smith, 35, has two seasons remaining on his contract with an annual cap hit of over $5.6 million.
Despite Smith’s age, salary and recent injury history, the Flames were desperate enough for a starting goaltender that they’re willing to take a chance on him. What also helped, of course, was the Coyotes’ willingness to pick up over $1.4 million annually of his remaining cap hit (stick tap to “ProScout”).
On June 23, the Edmonton Oilers sent right wing Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for winger Ryan Strome. Though Eberle’s production declined in recent years and he carries a $6 million annual cap hit for the next two seasons, the Isles felt he’d be an upgrade over the disappointing (but more affordable) Strome.
And on June 30, the Minnesota Wild packaged veteran winger Jason Pominville and defenseman Marco Scandella to the Buffalo Sabres for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno.
Pominville, 34, has two seasons remaining on his contract worth an annual cap hit of $5.6 million. His best seasons are behind him, but the Sabres were willing to bring him back to Buffalo to provide some veteran experience and leadership to their rebuilding roster.
The principals in each of these three trades – Smith, Eberle and Pominville – each had only two seasons remaining on their respective deals. That undoubtedly made their new teams willing to swallow their pricey annual average salaries.
Expensive long-term deals are still difficult to move, especially those with no-trade clauses. Finding a trade partner with sufficient salary-cap space to comfortably absorb a costly annual cap hit is a difficult test for any NHL general manager.
Still, under the right conditions, a seemingly unmovable NHL contract can be traded.
Updates on Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Seabrook plus latest on the Blue Jackets and Rangers in your NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: With Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury agreeing to waive his no-movement clause, Emily Sadler lists the Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders as possible destinations.
While Vegas seems the logical choice as they can select him in the expansion draft, Sadler notes the Golden Knights could flip him to another club in need of a starting goaltender. She points out the Flames were linked to Fleury in the rumor mill throughout this season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’ll be interesting to see how the Golden Knights play this. Fleury also has a modified no-trade clause listing 18 preferred trade destinations. They could keep him for themselves or trade him to one of those other clubs for a draft pick, prospect or promising young NHL player.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Aaron Portzline reports the Blue Jackets didn’t ask left wing Scott Hartnell to waive his no-movement clause for the upcoming expansion draft. He speculates this could mean the Jackets have a deal in place with the Golden Knights, ” one that would not require general manager Jarmo Kekalainen to shuffle his protected list and pull back a promising young player such as forward Josh Anderson.”
Portzline also suggests the Jackets could buy out the remaining two years of Hartnell’s contract, citing sources saying the winger was told at season’s end he was unlikely to return with the club next season. Neither Kekalainen or Hartnell were available for comments.
SPORTSNET 960: Elliotte Friedman also wonders if the Blue Jackets have a deal in place with the Golden Knights for David Clarkson. That move could net Vegas a first-round pick “and maybe a prospect or two.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Jackets need to both protect a good young player such as Anderson and clear up some salary-cap space for next season. I believe they do something to address those issues before the roster freeze at 3 pm ET on Saturday. Perhaps we’ll see a scenario whereby Clarkson and a draft pick/prospect gets dealt to the Golden Knights and Hartnell is bought out.
NEW YORK POST: While the New York Rangers didn’t ask defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal to waive their no-movement clauses for the upcoming expansion draft, Larry Brooks believes their futures are hardly settled. Both carry contracts with cap hits in excess of $5 million and it’s possible one or both could be bought out this summer, though that move comes with steep penalties.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Girardi has been rumored as the most likely buyout candidate.
LeBrun: My understanding on the Brent Seabrook rumors in particular, “there is zero chance he’s being moved.” 1050 #Blackhawks
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) June 12, 2017