NHL Free Agent Flat Cap Fallout – Metropolitan Division
A look at this year’s top UFA goaltenders in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE SCORE: Vegas’ Robin Lehner, Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom, and Washington’s Braden Holtby top Sean O’Leary’s ranking of this year’s top-10 NHL unrestricted free agent goaltenders.
O’Leary observes Lehner has better stats than teammate Marc-Andre Fleury, suggesting it’s possible Lehner could outperform Fleury and take over as the Golden Knights’ starting goalie in the playoff tournament. Nevertheless, he believes it will be difficult for the cap-strapped Golden Knights to re-sign Lehner with Fleury carrying two more years on his contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some media speculation suggested the Golden Knights pull a swerve by trading Fleury to free up sufficient cap space to sign Lehner. Fleury, however, has a 10-team no-trade list. His age (35) and $7 million annual average value could also make him difficult to move if Vegas wanted to go down that road.
I’ll be surprised if the Canucks part ways with Markstrom. He’s become a reliable starter in Vancouver and they want to keep him. I think the two sides can agree on around $6 million annually, but the term could be a sticking point. Markstrom is 30 and the Canucks could be leery of any deal beyond five years.
Some might be surprised to see Holtby slide to third despite being a former Vezina winner (2016) who backstopped the Capitals to their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2018. His struggles over the last two seasons account could hurt his value.
Holtby will draw interest if he hits the open market, but he probably won’t get the type of big-money contract he otherwise would’ve had his numbers remained strong. Of course, that will change if he carries the Caps on another deep playoff run.
Chicago Corey Crawford and Dallas’ Anton Khudobin are fourth and fifth on O’Leary’s list.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Crawford and Khudobin could stay put. Crawford wants to remain in Chicago but he’ll have to accept less than his current $6 million AAV on a much shorter contract. The Stars, meanwhile, are believed interested in keeping their tandem of Khudobin and Ben Bishop intact. That could require a bump above Khudobin’s current $2.5 million annual salary.
The New York Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, Calgary’s Cam Talbot, Edmonton’s Mike Smith, San Jose’s Aaron Dell, and Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott round out the top ten.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Greiss would be a fine backup for any NHL club. Talbot’s bounce-back performance this season could have him looking for a starter’s job.
Smith is in the twilight of his career, but some Edmonton pundits think the Oilers should bring him back for one more season. Dell’s had a rough couple of years as a backup in San Jose. Elliott could be re-signed by the Flyers for another season to back up Carter Hart.
Check out the latest Oilers and Devils speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
UPDATE ON THE OILERS
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Mark Spector was asked if the Edmonton Oilers will talk contract extension anytime soon with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins‘ representatives. The 26-year-old center is due to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Spector doesn’t expect Oilers general manager Ken Holland will make a contract offer until well into the 2020-21 season. He doesn’t see a great deal of pressure on either side right now but expects Nugent-Hopkins will re-sign. He thinks RNH could seek a salary comparable to teammate Leon Draisaitl‘s $8.5 million annual average value.
(NOT MARK) SPECTOR’S NOTE: There was some recent speculation about Nugent-Hopkins’ future in Edmonton. Considering his development into a solid two-way, top-six forward who can play center or wing, I expect they’ll re-sign him. $8.5 million annually is expensive, especially if the salary cap remains flat for 2021-22. Still, he’s an invaluable part of their core. I expect the two sides will work something out next year.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples cites a report out of Finland indicating Jesse Puljujarvi isn’t ruling out returning to the Oilers after this season. The 22-year-old winger opted to play in Finland this season while waiting for the Oilers to honor his trade request.
“Never say never,” Puljujarvi reportedly said, adding that everything is possible and he hasn’t set any timeline for his decision. Staples feels the best way for the Oilers to get full value out of the winger is for him to return to the club in a meaningful role. He thinks he still has a chance to become a second-line winger.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Puljujarvi had by most accounts a decent season in Finland. Maybe it’s the reset he needs to get his NHL career back on track.
Holland was reportedly seeking at least a first-round pick as part of any deal involving Puljujarvi, who was selected fourth overall in the 2016 draft. The Oilers GM obviously didn’t get anything proposals he liked, and I doubt that’ll change after this season. If Puljujarvi wants to resume his NHL career, it looks like it’ll be in Edmonton.
SUGGESTED GOALIE TARGETS FOR THE DEVILS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required) Corey Masisak recently examined several possible UFA goaltending options for the New Jersey Devils. They’ll need a suitable backup for Mackenzie Blackwood if they buy out Cory Schneider. If they keep Schneider, Masisak thinks they could look for someone to compete with him for the No. 2 spot.
Those that would require a significant investment include Anton Khudobin, Robin Lehner, Cam Talbot, Corey Crawford, and Thomas Greiss. Cheaper short-term options include Aaron Dell, Ryan Miller, Craig Anderson, Mike Smith, Brian Elliott, and Jimmy Howard, while Laurent Brossoit, Michael Hutchinson, and Louis Domingue would be among the low-risk candidates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Khudobin or Greiss might be their best choices. Lehner will be looking for a long-term contract as a starter so that rules him out if the Devils see Blackwood as their No.1 goalie. Crawford is likely to re-sign with the Blackhawks while Talbot could stay in Calgary.
Miller, Anderson, Smith, Elliott, and Howard are all past their primes. Apart from their contracts, they probably wouldn’t be an improvement over Schneider. Neither would Brossoit, Hutchinson, or Domingue.
In today’s NHL rumor mill, we look at the latest Oilers speculation and some suggested backup goaltender options for the Ducks.
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Mark Spector was asked if the Edmonton Oilers would be able to trade Kris Russell, and if Matt Benning would be retained and traded or let go.
Russell’s annual average value is $4 million through 2020-21. The 33-year-old defenseman is seeing third-pairing minutes on the Oilers’ blueline. Benning, 26, is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.
Spector feels general manager Ken Holland’s ability to move Russell will impinge on what he’ll offer Benning. He doesn’t see much sense in cutting Benning loose but expects he or Russell is likely to be moved to make way for a younger rearguard like Caleb Jones or Evan Bouchard.
Asked if the Oilers could buy out Russell or winger James Neal, Spector doesn’t expect that to happen unless the NHL offers up compliance buyouts in the off-season.
(NOT MARK) SPECTOR’S NOTE: The decline in Russell’s play and his cap hit will make him difficult enough to move. It gets tougher when his 10-team no-trade list climbs to 15 teams for 2020-21. They also can’t bury him in the minors because he has no-movement protection. Maybe they find a taker in the off-season, but I doubt it. I also agree with “Cousin Mark” about the buyout option.
Benning, meanwhile, could end up on the trade block if his contract talks become contentious. With Cap Friendly indicating the Oilers carry over $71 million invested in 16 players for next season, Holland can only offer Benning at best a modest raise over his current $1.9 million salary-cap hit.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Kurt Leavins reports the New York Rangers would potentially part with a high draft pick to facilitate a swap of Lias Andersson to Edmonton for Jesse Puljujarvi. However, he’s been told the Rangers have more interest in Puljujarvi than the Oilers have in the slow-footed Andersson.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Andersson-for-Puljujarvi rumor has floated around for a while, but I’m not convinced this is going to take place. Stranger things have happened but I don’t see the Rangers giving up a high draft pick to make this happen.
DUCKS BACKUP GOALIE OPTIONS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Eric Stephens recently examined several possible backup goalie options for the Anaheim Ducks if Ryan Miller isn’t re-signed or retires. Among them are Dallas’ Anton Khudobin, Calgary’s Cam Talbot, Edmonton’s Mike Smith, the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, and Ottawa’s Craig Anderson.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Stephens does a good job breaking down the pros and cons of each netminder. Khudobin and Greiss could prove too expensive as both will be in demand. Smith and Anderson are coming to the end of their respective careers. Talbot could seek a starter’s job after regaining his form this season with the Flames.
The Ducks could be forced to consider more affordable short-term options to spell off John Gibson, but that might not be suitable to ease his heavy workload.
Check out the latest on the Detroit Red Wings in today’s NHL rumor mill.
MLIVE.COM: Ansar Khan reports the Detroit Red Wings season may be over, but general manager Steve Yzerman faces a busy off-season.
One of his first decisions will be whether to pick up the option year in head coach Jeff Blashill’s contract or find a new bench boss. Gerard Gallant and Lane Lambert (former Yzerman teammates) could be among the candidates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gallant won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year for guiding the Vegas Golden Knights to the 2018 Stanley Cup in their expansion season. He could become the front-runner if the job becomes available.
In addition to deciding which of his free agents to re-sign, Khan speculates Yzerman could look to this year’s unrestricted free agent market for affordable second- and third-tier talent on short-term deals as stop-gap measures during the roster rebuild. He believes the Wings need a winger with scoring ability, a pair of defensemen, and a backup goaltender.
Khan also anticipates Yzerman will make low-risk value trades similar to his acquisitions of Robby Fabbri and Brendan Perlini.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Fabbri acquisition worked out well, but Perlini struggled throughout this season and probably won’t be back. Nevertheless, Yzerman will likely keep his eye open for once-promising players struggling with other clubs who could benefit from a fresh start elsewhere.
THE DETROIT NEWS: Ted Kulfan recently posted a three-part series examining potential UFA targets to address the Red Wings’ roster needs.
He doubts Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall or Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby will be interested in joining a rebuilding clubs like the Wings. He also expects the St. Louis Blues will re-sign Alex Pietrangelo while Michigan native Torey Krug could be re-signed by the Boston Bruins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some pundits suggested Krug might be willing to return home if he can’t sign with the Bruins. While we shouldn’t rule it out, I think he’d prefer playing for a contender.
Kulfan’s list of proposed forward options includes Colorado’s Vladislav Namestnikov, Florida’s Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman, or Erik Haula, Nashville’s Mikael Granlund, Vegas’ Tomas Nosek, or the New York Rangers’ Jesper Fast.
Blueline possibilities could include Toronto’s Tyson Barrie, Pittsburgh’s Justin Schultz, Washington’s Brenden Dillon, or the New York Islanders’ Andy Greene.
Goaltending targets could include Vegas’ Robin Lehner, but the term and price would have to be worked on). Others include Dallas’ Anton Khudobin, the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, and Calgary’s Cam Talbot.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Wings have over $46.2 million invested in 11 players. Once Yzerman re-signs key free agents like Fabbri, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Anthony Mantha, he’ll have plenty of cap room to bring in a couple of quality veteran free agents on short-term deals.
With the salary cap remaining around $81.5 million and several clubs looking to pinch pennies, that could work in Yzerman’s favor. If he sticks to affordable short-term options, he’ll have plenty to choose from once the notable names are snapped up.
The latest on the Leafs, Jets, and Devils in today’s NHL rumor mill.
COULD THE MAPLE LEAFS PURSUE MORE LTIR CONTRACTS?
TSN: Frank Seravalli expects the Toronto Maple Leafs to acquire more players on long-term injury reserve. Under the NHL CBA, a player under a contract whose career is cut short by injury but doesn’t retire can be placed on LTIR. That allows a team sitting at the cap maximum to exceed it by an amount equal to the player’s annual average value.
The Leafs previously acquired the contracts of all-but-retired players like Nathan Horton and David Clarkson to give themselves more salary-cap wiggle room. With both players coming off the books at the end of this season, Seravalli believes Leafs management will be on the hunt for more LTIR contracts.
His suggested targets include Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler, Ottawa’s Marian Gaborik, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg, Arizona’s Marian Hossa, and Chicago’s Brent Seabrook. Others could include Vancouver’s Micheal Ferland and Chicago’s Andrew Shaw.
SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman doubts the Leafs are eager to go the LTIR route again. “They knew they were starting last year without Travis Dermott and Zach Hyman. It wasn’t an easy dance for them — or Vegas — last season.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I anticipate this loophole could be closed in the next collective bargaining agreement. Meanwhile, there’s nothing within the CBA preventing the Leafs (or anyone else) from doing this again. Several LTIR contracts (including those of Gaborik and Hossa) were traded in recent years to cap-strapped clubs seeking some payroll flexibility. Bear in mind it remains to be seen if Kesler, Seabrook, Ferland, and Shaw become permanent LTIR players. They haven’t ruled out returning to play next season.
Friedman raises a good point about the difficulty the Leafs faced to pull this off this season. It could become more complicated if their roster starts next season healthier than they were at the start of 2019-20.
BACKUP GOALIE OPTIONS FOR THE JETS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Ken Wiebe examined some backup goaltending targets for the Winnipeg Jets if they don’t re-sign pending free agent Laurent Brossoit. Trade targets could include St. Louis’ Jake Allen and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, while the UFA market includes the New York Islanders’ Thomas Greiss and San Jose’s Aaron Dell. New Jersey’s Cory Schneider could be a long-shot option if the Devils buy out the final two years of his contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Blues could move Allen in a cost-cutting deal to re-sign captain Alex Pietrangelo, but they won’t just give him away. Their asking price could be a good, young, affordable NHLer.
Dubnyk has a modified no-trade clause containing 19 preferred trade destinations. There’s no certainty the Jets would be on it.
In addition to Greiss and Dell, Cam Talbot and Anton Khudobin are also potentially available. All but Dell, however, could cost over $3 million annually each.
LATEST DEVILS SPECULATION
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): In a recent mailbag segment, Corey Masisak was asked if the New Jersey Devils might go after a big-name free agent like St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo. While acknowledging the possibility, he considers the odds slim, suggesting it might not make sense to pay Pietrangelo huge money for a couple of seasons before the Devils are ready to become playoff contenders. He advocates pursuing a younger top-pairing blueliner in a trade.
Asked if the Devils could shop one of their three first-round picks in this year’s draft, Masisak thinks it’s too early to tell. “I don’t think they would consider trading the Arizona pick or the Vancouver pick until we know if it’s being transferred in 2020 or is an unprotected 2021 choice,” he said. “The value of those picks changes depending on that information.”