NHL Playoffs: Golden Knights Let Down By Top Players
Check out some recent Golden Knights and Ducks speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
HOW CAN THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS RE-SIGN LEHNER?
NHL.COM: Danny Webster reports Robin Lehner hopes to speak with Vegas Golden Knights’ management soon about re-signing a new contract. Acquired at the February trade deadline, the 28-year-old goaltender is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
“I’m sure we’ll have some discussions (with general manager Kelly McCrimmon) after the season and see what happens,” said Lehner on Wednesday. He added he’s had a really good impression about the team in his short time with them.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Jesse Granger recently examined how a flat salary cap of $81.5 million will affect the Vegas Golden Knights. They already have over $75 million committed to next season’s payroll with 16 players under contract.
The Golden Knights cannot afford to make expensive additions as they’ve done in their short history. They must instead improve their roster with younger, cheaper options. It will also make it difficult to retain Lehner.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lehner’s status gave rise to speculation suggesting the Golden Knights could attempt to trade Fleury if Lehner outplays him in the upcoming playoff tournament. Easier said than done. Fleury, 35, carries a 10-team no-trade list plus an annual average value of $7 million through 2021-22.
If McCrimmon wants to keep both goalies, he’ll have to slash salary elsewhere to free up sufficient space. Assuming Lehner signs for $6 million annually, it would mean shopping someone like Paul Stastny ($6.5 million AAV through 2020-21, 10-team no-trade) or William Karlsson ($5.9 million through 2026-27, with a 10-team no-trade kicking in next season). Considering how many other clubs are affected by a flat cap, finding takers for either guy could prove difficult.
Other trade options could include wingers Reilly Smith or Jonathan Marchessault. Both carry $5 million AAVs beyond next season with modified no-trade clauses. Young winger Alex Tuch ($4.75 million through 2025-26) lacks no-trade protection and has power-forward potential, though injury hampered his performance this season.
RECENT DUCKS SPECULATION
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): In a recent mailbag, Eric Stephens was asked if the Anaheim Ducks should move players like Josh Manson, Jakob Silfverberg, or Adam Henrique for picks or to move up in this year’s draft.
Stephens doesn’t see that happening, pointing to GM Bob Murray’s belief that the team is much better than it showed last season. Nevertheless, he believes Murray should at least listen on offers for Manson, who needs a bounce-back season. If promising Trevor Zegras is ready, perhaps an Henrique deal will be considered.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Manson would attract attention if he hits the trade block. He carries an affordable $4.1 million AAV through 2021-22, but also a 12-team no-trade list. For the right offer (a scoring forward), perhaps Murray would consider it, provided it from one of the clubs on Manson’s list of preferred destinations.
The latest on the Sharks and Wild in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WHICH UFAS WILL THE SHARKS RE-SIGN?
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Kevin Kurz recently examined which San Jose Sharks’ unrestricted free agents could be re-signed and those who have likely played their final games in teal.
He feels it would make sense to bring back Joe Thornton if the long-time Sharks center accepts a $1 million or less salary to provide the club with salary-cap flexibility. He’s leaning toward Thorton’s return but doesn’t consider it a certainty.
Kurz wouldn’t be surprised if the Sharks re-signed Melker Karlsson but could also see him move on to another club. Having traded away a penalty killer in Barclay Goodrow, it might be worthwhile to re-sign Karlsson if he accepts a pay cut.
Backup goalie Aaron Dell won’t be back unless the Sharks can trade starter Martin Jones, but his contract makes him nearly impossible to move. Stefan Noesen will likely get an affordable one- or two-year deal. Unless the Sharks trade Brent Burns, Kurz expects the Sharks will part ways with Tim Heed.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’ve singled out the more notable of the Sharks’ UFAs. I can see Thornton, Karlsson, and Noesen being re-signed if they’re willing to accept cost-effective deals.
Cap Friendly indicates the Sharks have over $66 million invested in 13 players for 2020-21. General manager Doug Wilson indicated he believes his club can make a quick turnaround from this season’s disappointing performance. To do so, he’ll need those aforementioned free agents to accept affordable one-year contracts or watch them depart via free agency.
UPDATE ON THE WILD
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Michael Russo recently reported the league’s proposed roster expansion to 28 skaters and an unlimited number of goaltenders would allow the Minnesota Wild to use Kaapo Kahkonen in the 24-team playoff tournament.
Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock are the Wild’s current goalie tandem. However, coach Dean Evason isn’t ruling out the possibility of the AHL goalie of the year becoming their starter in the tournament if he plays well in training camp. “Whoever is in there that we deem is going to play well for us in whatever position, I’m sure everybody will support him and we will go forward,” said Evason.
Russo suggested it also makes sense for Wild general manager Bill Guerin to play Kahkonen to determine if the 23-year-old netminder is ready to become their No. 1 or No. 2 goalie next season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Wild’s goaltending situation could get interesting in the off-season if Kahkonen outplays Dubnyk and Stalock in the proposed return-to-play tournament. Dubnyk has one season left on his contract with an annual average value of over $4.33 million and a 19-team trade list. Stalock has two years left at a cheap AAV of $785K. Should Kahkonen prove himself NHL-ready, Guerin could be tempted to use Dubnyk or Stalock as trade bait to address other roster needs.
Russo also reported Marcus Foligno hopes to sign a contract extension with the Minnesota Wild. The 28-year-old forward will become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Foligno’s become an effective third-line forward for the Wild. He carries a $2.875-million annual average value on his current contract. The Wild have over $39 million invested in just seven players for 2021-22, leaving plenty of space to re-sign Foligno if they choose.
A growing number of NHL stars are speaking out against racial justice, the latest updates on the league’s return-to-play format, and Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray talks about his club’s future in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
MORE NHL STARS SPEAK OUT AGAINST RACIAL INJUSTICE
TSN: New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban pledged $50,000 to George Floyd’s daughter Gianna’s GoFundMe page.
“Change the game means change the narrative. The narrative has been the same: no justice. There needs to be justice. Justice has to happen, change needs to come. But we need everyone. We need all people to look at our lives and see where we can help that change and do our part.”
Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron pledged $25,000 to the Boston branch of the NAACP and $25,000 to Centre Multiethnique de Quebec.
“Let’s take real actions, with an open heart and compassion, I am determined to be an ally, continue to grow myself, and raise my children to be anti-racist.”
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and teammate Jason Zucker, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber and teammate Brendan Gallagher, Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and winger Tom Wilson, Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, and San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson joined a growing list of NHL stars issuing statements speaking out against racial injustice.
THE SCORE: Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas believes his club can and should do more to combat systemic racism.
“I think what we’ve learned, especially in the last number of days, is that with the Maple Leafs and with our players and with our staff … we need to be doing more on the anti-racism side of things. Not only with our statements and our words and our tweets and what we put out there but with our actions, and we know that people will be watching us and holding us accountable in that regard.”
ESPN.COM: NHL analyst and former goaltender Kevin Weekes described his experiences as a black player in a predominantly white sport.
“The higher up I got in hockey, the more race started to become a factor,” Weekes said. “And I started realizing that, for me, I was walking over Niagara Falls on a tightrope with no safety net.”
Weekes called upon the NHL to implement harsher punishments for racially motivated incidents or slurs and to evaluate its relationship with local police departments.
“For an example, an NHL club should be very selective, just as they are with their players, to do hyperscreening of the law enforcement officials they use to work their venues or protect their players and their families. We’ll be a lot more diligent in the people we select to work with us.”
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Ken Campbell notes the growing number of NHL players speaking out against the murder of George Floyd and racism toward black people have galvanized the sport. He wonders if this will bring about necessary change within hockey.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s heartening to see more NHL stars adding their voices against racial injustice, bigotry, and intolerance. However, they must back up their comments by actively working against racism within the sport and in society
Subban and Bergeron accompanied their words with deeds. Hopefully, other players will follow their example.
I’m not doubting the players’ sincerity, but if they don’t back up their comments with positive action, their words will ring hollow.
LATEST NHL RETURN-TO-PLAY NEWS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Pierre LeBrun yesterday reported an NHL source said the league hasn’t yet whittled down its list of 10 potential hub cities down to two for its return-to-play tournament. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Chicago are believed in the running. The league could narrow down that list and finding suitable locations within the next two weeks.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The recent protests against racial injustice in many US cities could affect the league’s decision. The potential Canadian locations depend upon whether the Canadian government eases its current COVID-19 border restrictions or deems NHL employees as essential works.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Joe Haggerty reports the NHL won’t begin Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan until all 31 teams can safely and legally reopen their training facilities. There are also complications involving foreign-born players being allowed to return to their Canadian NHL cities because of the country’s border restrictions. July 10 is the earliest date training camps could open, with the 24-team tournament beginning in late July or early August.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Phase 2 allows the players to return to their respective NHL cities to engage in voluntary small-group training in their practice facilities. The league is believed to be aiming for mid-June to formally introduce that phase.
SPORTSNET: Ontario premier Doug Ford said the NHL told him it would use private labs to process COVID-19 tests of players and staff should the league resume plan this summer. Toronto is among the teams on the proposed list of hub cities for the return-to-play tournament.
DUCKS GM EXPECTS IMPROVEMENT NEXT SEASON
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: Elliott Teaford reports Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray voiced his displeasure over his club’s poor performance this season. He expects improvement and more accountability from his players in 2020-21.
Murray singled out his core players. “No excuses,” he said. “All of our core guys have to pick up their games.” He also intends to meet next week with head coach Dallas Eakins and his staff in person if possible.
The Ducks GM spoke about his club’s free agents. “We’ve talked to them all,” Murray said. “In some cases, we have the hammer. In some cases, they have the hammer. There’s not going to be a lot of money out there (because of the coronavirus pause in play). The (salary) cap could be flat for a couple of years. Revenues could be tight.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Ducks were a mess last season. Teaford cited their anemic offense, underachieving special teams, and inconsistent play.
Part of it had to do with their rebuilding roster, as several promising youngsters failed to play up to expectations. Some of it was Eakin readjusting to the NHL game after coaching in the minors. Some of it was core players like Rickard Rakell failing to step up. Murray can demand accountability but it remains to be seen if the Ducks can elevate their play.
Erik Karlsson explains why he feels his club shouldn’t finish this season, Florida governor said his state is open to pro sports teams, and some prospects want the draft to be held in June. Details and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NBC SPORTS BAY AREA: San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson made a rational argument against his club potentially completing the rest of the regular season if the NHL resumes playing this summer. He pointed out the Sharks were well out of playoff contention when the schedule was paused. “Obviously for us, it doesn’t really matter what happens to the season, personally. But at the same time, you do feel for the guys and the teams that are in a totally different position.”
Karlsson indicted he’d probably feel differently if the Sharks were a Stanley Cup contender like they were a year ago. “But as of right now, I don’t know what the point is for us to come back if they’re gonna play us five games [and we’ll] be away from our family and friends and put ourselves in that position for pretty much nothing.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Karlsson isn’t the only player on a non-contending team expressing reluctance about completing the regular-season schedule. He makes a good point, as he and his teammates would have little to play for. Lately, however, reports have emerged indicating the league could be moving away from that format, looking instead on going straight into the post-season schedule.
ESPN.COM: Florida governor Ron DeSantis said his state is open for professional sports teams to practice and play. “What I would tell commissioners of leagues is, if you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida,” said DeSantis.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Florida could be a potential NHL Atlantic Division host location. Arizona also recently made a similar announcement but they’re reportedly not among the contenders to be an NHL neutral-site host.
NHL-NHLPA Return to Play Committee had another call Wednesday, second day in a row. Still lots of back and forth on formats and other issues. And my sense is still lots of work ahead.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 14, 2020
OTTAWA SUN: Bruce Garrioch reports player agent Andy Scott said the prospects he represents are keen for the NHL to hold the 2020 Draft in June. “They’d rather have the draft in June and not have all of the anxiety the entire summer of where they’re going to go in the draft,” he said. “They’d rather get it over with, understand what team owns their rights, and be able to have some communication with that team throughout the summer.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Can’t blames those youngsters for wanting to get this done as soon as possible. The league proposed staging the draft next month before resuming this season, but there’s reportedly been pushback against that idea from NHL general managers. A decision could be reached by the end of next week.
ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski reports AHL president David Andrews isn’t ruling out having less than 31 teams participating next season if social distancing rules prevent fans from attending games. “We have 19 NHL-owned teams and 12 independently-owned teams. And the independently owned teams are in very good financial condition, even after what happened in this 2019-20 season,” he said. “But if their businesses aren’t viable, if they have to play in front of an empty building for six months, some of those teams will likely choose not to play.”
Andrews explained his league relies more on gate revenue than the NHL. “We have very little in the way of rights fee revenue for television We have fairly decent streaming revenue, but not enough to sustain [31 teams]. Our corporate partnership revenue is linked to having people in the seats. Without being able to put fans in the seats, it would be a much different-looking league,” he said.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In other words, the AHL could return next season with only 19 clubs in operation. It could be a one-season pause for the dozen independents, but it would certainly raise questions over the long-term futures of those 12 franchises.