NHL Offseason Lookahead: Calgary Flames
In today’s NHL rumor mill, we examine the latest on the Flames and Oilers, plus how the elimination of the UFA interview period could be a win for the players.
LATEST ON THE FLAMES AND OILERS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Scott Cruickshank recently examined the effect of a flat salary cap ($81.5 million) on the Calgary Flames for next season. With nine forwards, four defensemen, and one goaltender under contract, they have less than $17 million to work with.
Of their restricted free agents, Cruickshank assumed the Flames will retain Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington. He suggested shopping Mark Jankowski’s rights or letting him become an unrestricted free agent by not qualifying his rights.
Cruickshank doesn’t expect the Flames can afford to keep both T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic. Both are unrestricted free agents at season’s end. He suggested re-signing Brodie and letting Hamonic walk or shopping his rights for a pick at the 2020 NHL Draft. Trade deadline acquisitions Erik Gustafsson and Derek Forbort are unlikely to be re-signed. Cruickshank expects UFA goalie Cam Talbot could seek a starter’s job elsewhere, leaving the Flames in need of an affordable backup (like Anton Forsberg) for David Rittich.
That won’t leave much room to pursue a free-agent star such as winger Taylor Hall unless they make a couple of significant cost-cutting moves.
SPORTSNET: Eric Francis also speculated the Flames will retain Brodie during a recent mailbag segment. He was also asked if the Flames might replace Talbot and winger Johnny Gaudreau with Robin Lehner and Hall. Francis felt there’s a remote possibility to sign Lehner but it made no sense to dump Gaudreau to sign the more expensive Hall.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Francis also noted the trade speculation dogging Gaudreau over the past year-and-a-half, expecting such a move will eventually happen. The 26-year-old has fallen out of favor with Flames fans since a disappointing performance in last year’s playoffs followed by sub-par production during this season.
Another dissatisfying postseason effort on Gaudreau’s part will ramp up the trade speculation during the off-season. He lacks no-trade protection for next season, but his $6.75-million annual average value could be difficult to move under a flat cap.
THE ATHLETIC: Jonathan Willis recently examined the Edmonton Oilers’ cap situation. For next season, they could use their leverage to re-sign Ethan Bear (no arbitration rights) to a cheap one-year contract. Trade deadline acquisition Andreas Athanasiou (restricted free agent) could return at his current salary ($3 million) while veteran goalie Mike Smith (UFA) should return.
Willis speculates winger James Neal and defenseman Kris Russell could be bought out, though the latter could be shopped with 50 percent salary retention (in real dollars worth only $750K to his new team).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I expect most of Willis’ scenario for next season will play out as expected. Smith is in the twilight of his career and could accept another one-year, bonus-laden deal with a $2 million base salary.
ELIMINATION OF UFA INTERVIEW PERIOD COULD BE A WIN FOR PLAYERS
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin believes the recent elimination of the five-to-seven day window for clubs to interview pending UFAs in the CBA extension is a win for the players. With little time for general managers to prepare, it could spark a return to the opening-day bidding wars of the past.
Larkin suggests it will be the end of media leaks leading up to the noon ET start of free agency. It could also mean fewer signings on opening day.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: While this isn’t a rumor, this will affect the UFA market going forward. The absence of the interview period means there will be more intrigue leading up to the start of the free-agency period. It will also mean we could see some notable UFAs taking several days to sign.
The flat cap could also affect the market value for the top UFA. Larkin speculates that could change in a year or two as hockey-related revenue improves, thus raising the salary cap.
The NHL and NHLPA ratify the return-to-play plan and the CBA extension, two players opt-out, and more in today’s morning coffee headlines
NHL.COM: The league and the NHLPA yesterday ratified the return-to-play plan and the extension to the collective bargaining agreement.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The NHLPA vote wasn’t close. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reports 79 percent of the players were in favor (502 to 135). So much for suggestions that a majority wouldn’t approve the plan.
The 24-team playoff tournament will begin on Aug. 1 in Edmonton and Toronto. Training camps will open in each team’s local markets on Monday, July 13.
Critical dates for the tournament and the off-season are as follows:
July 13 – Training camp begins
July 26 – Teams arrive in hub cities
July 28-30 – Exhibition games
August 1 – Best-of-five qualifying round begins
August 10* – Phase 2 of the draft lottery
August 11 – First round of the playoffs begins (all playoff rounds are best-of-seven)
August 25* – Second round of the playoffs begins
September 8* – Conference Finals begins
September 22* – Stanley Cup Final begins
October 4* – Last possible date for playoffs
Oct. 9 – 10* – NHL Draft
*Subject to change
The league has released the tournament schedule. The Eastern Conference qualifier kicks off with the New York Rangers vs the Carolina Hurricanes, the Florida Panthers vs the New York Islanders, and the Montreal Canadiens vs the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Western Conference opens with the Chicago Blackhawks vs the Edmonton Oilers and the Winnipeg Jets vs the Calgary Flames. Broadcast times TBA.
TSN: Bob McKenzie reports the players will have until 5 pm ET Monday, July 13 to opt-out of Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the return-to-play plan for any reason without penalty. They must do so in writing to the NHLPA and NHL Central Registry.
CALGARY SUN: Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic has exercised his right to opt-out, citing the health of his young daughter.
TSN’S Rick Dhaliwal reports Vancouver Canucks winger Sven Baertschi has also opted out.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said, we shouldn’t judge any player who decides not to participate. These are trying times and we should respect their decisions.
NHL.COM: The main details of the CBA extension include:
The salary cap remaining at $81.5 million for 2020-21 and increasing incrementally in the following years if hockey-related revenue reaches certain thresholds,
Escrow deductions from players salaries will be capped at 20 percent for 2020-21, gradually dropping to 6 percent for each of the final three seasons of the agreement,
A year will be added to the CBA (to 2026-27) if the players’ escrow debt for this season exceeds $125 million but is less than $250 million,
Players defer 10 percent of their salaries (including signing bonuses) for 2020-21, which will be repaid in equal installments over three seasons beginning in 2022-23.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s my understanding this will not reduce a team’s salary-cap hit for next season. It’s a reduction in actual salary, not the cap hit.
The one-week interview period for unrestricted free agents has been permanently eliminated,
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In other words, back to the old frenzy of general managers negotiating with player agents starting at noon ET on the opening day of the free-agent market.
All no-trade and no-movement clauses will carry with the player if he agrees to waive it to be traded. Previously, those clauses became inactive once a player agreed to waive it and was moved.
Teams won’t carry a cap charge for a player who signs a 35-and-older contract and subsequently retires before that contract expires.
Teams will no longer include conditions in trades involving the signing of the traded player to a new contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In other words, no conditional draft picks included in the deal. It’s also still to be determined how that might affect conditional trades made before this season’s schedule was interrupted by COVID-19.
Most of the main points were previously reported and duly noted on this site. You can get the full details on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the CBA extension by following this link. There are, however, several other interesting tidbits:
Teams no longer need to wait until after the trade deadline to re-sign a player to an eight-year contract extension.
Qualifying offers for restricted free agents are no longer equal to the final year’s salary. It will instead be based on the average annual value of the contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: For example, if the player’s AAV was $5 million but the final year of the contract paid him $7.5 million in actual salary, the team only has to tender a QO of $5 million.
Teams can begin to sign restricted free agents and draft picks to contracts for 2020-21 starting Monday, July 13. They can also extend players who are on contracts that expire after the end of the 2020-21 season.
SPORTSNET’s Elliotte Friedman reports teams that incur a performance bonus overage can distribute that penalty over the next two seasons.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Craig Custance reports of a significant change to salary arbitration. Once an arbitration hearing begins, a settlement is not allowed.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In previous years, teams and players could settle following the hearing and before the arbiter reached his decision. This change should encourage both sides to hammer out an agreement before the hearing starts.
TSN: Frank Seravalli reports the MOU contains a paragraph indicating the NHL has the power to pro-rate or cancel salaries outright if forced to cease or reduce operations from conditions arising from a state of war or other causes beyond the league’s control.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seravalli believes it’s likely not the league’s intention to use that clause. Nevertheless, it could go into effect if it is forced to reduce next season’s planned 82-games schedule. Something to keep in mind if that should come to pass given the uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
A listing of this year’s top UFA forwards and the latest on the Leafs in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TOP FORWARDS IN THIS YEAR’S UFA MARKET
THE SCORE: Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall, Florida Panthers winger Mike Hoffman, and Vancouver Canucks winger Tyler Toffoli sit atop Josh Gold-Smith’s recent ranking of this year’s top NHL unrestricted free agent forwards. Panthers winger Evgenii Dadonov and Nashville Predators winger Mikael Granlund round out the top five.
Washington Capitals winger Ilya Kovalchuk, Colorado Avalanche forward Vladislav Namestikov, Edmonton Oilers winger Tyler Ennis, Predators winger Craig Smith, and Coyotes center Carl Soderberg complete the top-10.
Other notables include Minnesota Wild forward Alex Galchenyuk, Florida Panthers center Erik Haula, New York Islanders center Derick Brassard, Buffalo Sabres winger Wayne Simmonds, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: You can quibble over some of Gold-Smith’s rankings, but it’s clear this isn’t a great year for UFA forward talent.
Hall is the best of the bunch. Hoffman and Dadonov are reliable scorers while Toffoli is the best two-way forward. Granlund struggled through most of his tenure with the Predators, but his play improved after Peter Laviolette was replaced as head coach with John Hynes. A solid playoff tournament performance could boost his stock.
It’s pretty much buyer beware for most of the rest. They either haven’t panned out (Galchenyuk), were hampered by injuries (Haula), or are on the downside of their careers (Kovalchuk, Brassard, Simmonds, Spezza).
LATEST LEAFS SPECULATION
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Luke Fox was asked for the Toronto Maple Leafs likely blueline targets in the off-season. Given their limited salary-cap space, he doesn’t expect they’ll land Alex Pietrangelo, suggesting instead Travis Hamonic, Chris Tanev, Sami Vatanen, or Radko Gudas as more viable options.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap constraints will also hamper efforts to sign the others. Cap Friendly indicates they have over $76.9 million invested in 16 players. Some cost-cutting would have to be made to pursue them.
Turning to the trade market, Fox pointed out Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas tends to deal for players with term remaining on their contracts. High-end right-hand shots include Minnesota’s Matt Dumba, Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen, Columbus’ David Savard, Carolina’s Brett Pesce, Buffalo’s Colin Miller, Edmonton’s Adam Larsson, and Anaheim’s Josh Manson.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t see Dumba, Pesce, Larsson, or Manson getting moved. Ristolainen or Miller could be available, but it depends on whether the Sabres will trade with a hated division rival like the Leafs. Savard might be a trade option if Dubas offered up a decent scoring forward like Kasperi Kapanen.
Regarding Frederik Andersen’s contract status, Fox feels that they should kick it down the road. Andersen becomes a UFA next summer. He also expects defenseman Travis Dermott and winger Ilya Mikheyev will receive bridge deals.
The latest on Taylor Hall plus a look at several blueline free-agent targets for the Canucks in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST HALL SPECULATION
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Lisa Dillman and Eric Stephens recently examined the pros and cons if the Los Angeles Kings made an unexpected free-agent splash by signing Taylor Hall. The 28-year-old Arizona Coyotes winger and former Hart Trophy winner will become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
The Kings’ projected salary-cap space for next season is $23 million, giving them plenty of room to sign Hall. Unlike their flier on Ilya Kovalchuk, Hall remains in his playing prime and would provide a big offensive boost. He also wouldn’t have to be the Kings’ savior, as he’d be joining a roster with veterans stars like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty.
Assuming the Kings could get Hall at a discount, he’d still be expensive to sign. He’s also fast approaching 30 and most of the contract would cover his declining years.
TSN: Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet remains optimistic about Hall staying in Arizona. “I’m not saying he is going to sign here, but I definitely think we’re a team he’s very interested in staying with,” Tocchet said.
ARIZONA SPORTS: Matt Layman reports Hall believes he has a good relationship with Coyotes management and the coaching staff. “I think both sides are talking a little bit, but it’s important to know what the future looks like and to know when free agency could possibly be and what the outlook is.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t see the Kings pursuing Hall or any other big-ticket unrestricted free agents this year. Dillman pointed out general manager Rob Blake last month indicated his club’s big salary-cap year would be in another year. That’s not to say Blake won’t look into the UFA market for one or two affordable options, but he’s not going to blow the wad on an expensive star.
Coyotes GM John Chayka must shed one or two contracts to free up sufficient cap room if he hopes to keep Hall in Arizona. Cap Friendly indicates they have nearly $80 million invested in 16 players for 2020-21, though they’ll get $5.275 million in cap relief by placing all-but-retired Marian Hossa on long-term injury reserve. Hall could seek around $9 million annually on a long-term deal.
SUGGESTED BLUELINE TARGETS FOR THE CANUCKS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Thomas Drance and Harman Dayal recently listed eight defensemen for the Vancouver Canucks to target via free agency. They include Toronto’s Tyson Barrie, Calgary’s Travis Hamonic, Washington’s Radko Gudas, Winnipeg’s Dylan DeMelo, Philadelphia’s Justin Braun, Florida’s Mark Pysyk, San Jose’s Tim Heed, and Tampa Bay’s Jan Rutta.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Barrie and Hamonic are obviously the best of the bunch and would also be the most expensive to sign. Salary-cap space will likely be a significant determining factor here. The Canucks have over $63.4 million invested in 14 players, with Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli, and Chris Tanev are their notable UFAs while Jake Virtanen heads their list of restricted free agents.
It could cost a combined $12 million to keep Markstrom and Toffoli in the fold. Unless GM Jim Benning can shed some salary (Loui Eriksson? Brandon Sutter?), the Canucks could be forced to consider more cost-effective blueline options.
Possible free-agent targets for the Red Wings and Devils in today’s NHL rumor mill.
POSSIBLE RED WINGS UFA TARGETS
THE DETROIT NEWS: Ted Kulfan believes a potential dip in next season’s salary cap could prove beneficial to the financially secure Red Wings. They have only $46.2 million invested in 11 players for 2020-21.
While a good chunk of the Wings’ cap space will be used to re-sign restricted free-agent forwards Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Robby Fabbri, Kulfan believes they’ll still be in a good position to take advantage of this summer’s unrestricted free agent market.
“Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis), Livonia’s Torey Krug (Michigan State/Boston) and Tyson Barrie (Toronto), forwards Taylor Hall (Arizona) and Mike Hoffman (Florida), and goalies Robin Lehner (Vegas) and Braden Holtby (Washington)” are among the notables who could be available at season’s end.
Kulfan admits some of those players could end up re-signing with their current clubs. Some, however, will hit the open market and the Wings could be among the teams that benefit. They need to bolster their defense and goaltending.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Wings general manager Steve Yzerman could target Pietrangelo, Krug, Lehner, or Holtby if they hit the open market. Convincing one of them to sign with a rebuilding club that finished this season with the league’s worst record, however, will likely take more than waving lots of dollars at them.
Their preference could be to sign with playoff contenders. Yzerman will have to sell them on his vision for the future and how long he believes it’ll take to achieve it.
POSSIBLE DEVILS UFA BLUELINE TARGETS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Corey Masisak recently examined some UFA targets to improve the New Jersey Devils’ defense corps. Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug topped the list.
Other clubs could give Pietrangelo a better chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. There’s some question if Krug would be as effective with another club as he’s been with the Boston Bruins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Like the Wings, the Devils have plenty of salary-cap room ($55.2 million invested in 13 players) to make a competitive bid for a top-four free-agent defenseman. However, they’re also a rebuilding team that still hasn’t decide who their full-time general manager will be.
Whoever’s sitting in that role following this season will have to be a good salesman to land one of this summer’s better UFA rearguards.