NHL Free Agent Flat Cap Fallout – Metropolitan Division
A look at TSN’s listing of this year’s top unrestricted free agents in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TSN: St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall, and Boston Bruins blueliner Torey Krug top Frank Seravalli’s listing of this year’s top-50 unrestricted free agents.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No surprise there. Media consensus has those three in exactly those three positions among the top-50.
Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom (fourth) and Vegas’ Robin Lehner (sixth) ranked above Washington’s Braden Holtby (12th) among this year’s top UFA goalies.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Holtby has a Vezina Trophy (2016) and a Stanley Cup (2018) on his resume, but his inconsistent play over the past two seasons sent his stock tumbling. A strong performance in the upcoming playoff tournament, however, could send him rising on this list.
Former Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien ranked fifth.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If this was two years ago, I’d have no issue with Byfuglien ranking this high. But the 35-year-old blueliner missed all of this season over a dispute with the Jets regarding the severity of an ankle injury, which ultimately required surgery. We don’t know if he’s keen to return to the NHL following the mutual agreement to terminate his contract in April. Until we get an indication from the Byfuglien camp that he wants to resume his playing career, he should be at the bottom of this list.
Florida Panthers wingers Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, Vancouver Canucks’ versatile forward Tyler Toffoli, and Toronto Maple Leafs rearguard Tyson Barrie round out the top ten.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I’d rank Toffoli over Hoffman and Dadonov because of his two-way skills, Stanley Cup experience, plus he’s younger than those two. I’d put Holtby over Barrie, who had a rough season with the Leafs and should be ranked much lower than 10th.
Among the surprises was Florida Panthers oft-injured center Erik Haula ranked 11th, aging Washington Capitals winger Ilya Kovalchuk at 23rd, and Leafs blueliner Cody Ceci at 24th.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Haula shouldn’t be ranked that high. He hasn’t fully recovered from knee surgery in 2018. Kovalchuk enjoyed a bounce-back performance during a two-month tenure with the Montreal Canadiens, but there’s no certainty the 36-year-old can sustain that effort over a full season. Ceci’s stock was in decline before he was dealt to the Leafs last summer and tumbled further this season.
Defensemen dominate this list. Along with Pietrangelo, Krug, Barrie, and Ceci, the list includes Calgary’s T.J. Brodie (13th) and Travis Hamonic (20th), Carolina’s Sami Vatanen (14th), Tampa Bay’s Kevin Shattenkirk (15th), Vancouver’s Chris Tanev (17th), Philadelphia’s Justin Braun (19th), and Pittsburgh’s Justin Schultz (29th).
Seravalli believes many UFAs could be on edge as this will be a free-agent period like no other thanks to the interruption of the season by COVID-19 and the effect upon league revenue and the salary cap. Players on non-playoff clubs, like Buffalo’s Wayne Simmonds and Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki, could be sidelined for seven months, potentially affecting their future earnings.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This year’s UFA class could have difficulty finding lucrative long-term contracts if the salary cap is frozen at $81.5 million for next season. Thirteen teams have payrolls already exceeding $70 million for next season, with a handful of others sitting with payrolls over $65 million.
Some of those notable free agents could end up accepting short-term deals, perhaps for less than market value, in hope of landing more lucrative offers when (if?) revenue rebounds over the next couple of years.
Check out recent speculation on the Canadiens, Rangers, and Sharks in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Eric Engels was asked about backup goaltender options for the Montreal Canadiens. The Dallas Stars’ Anton Khudobin a prime target but would the Canadiens pay more than the $2.5 million AAV he currently earns when they’re paying Carey Price $10.5 million annually? Engels thinks they have the cap flexibility to do it.
Engels felt the Canadiens should consider trading Brett Kulak because they’ve got Alexander Romanov coming next season. Kulak’s affordable contract ($1.85 million AAV through 2021-22) could net the Habs some help elsewhere on the roster. He also feels it’s all but assured winger Ilya Kovalchuk rejoins the Canadiens in the off-season as an unrestricted free agent.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I also believe the Canadiens should make a serious effort to sign Khudobin. They need a skilled, experienced backup to spell off Price over the next couple of seasons under promising Cayden Primeau is fully ready for prime time.
Kulak might not fetch much, but with some teams potentially looking to shed salary under a possible flat cap next season, maybe he could fetch a decent depth player. Kovalchuk should be an affordable, short-term signing on a one-year, bonus-laded deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Lightning has over $76 million invested in 16 players for next season, which explains why Sergachev could be a tempting offer-sheet target. However, that’s assuming he’s willing to listen to offers from rival clubs. If he’s not, it’ll be a waste of time. Besides, it’s assumed the Lightning could move a veteran like Alex Killorn in the off-season to make room to re-sign Sergachev.
NEW YORK POST: In a recent mailbag segment, Larry Brooks was asked If Henrik Lundqvist or Marc Staal would be the target of an amnesty buyout if the league allows such buyouts before next season. Buying out Lundqvist would free up $8.5 million for next season, compared to $5.7 million for Staal. “Sentiment aside, I do not think this would be a difficult choice,” replied Brooks.
Brooks admitted the possibility Lias Andersson could be in the Rangers’ 2020 training camp, but it would require a lot of work to breach the differences between the unhappy young winger and the organization, particularly with head coach David Quinn. He felt Andersson could be traded in the off-season as part of a bigger deal.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If amnesty buyouts are permitted this off-season, shedding Lundqvist’s cap hit makes the most sense. It would be a sad way for his career with the Blueshirts to end, but this is a business decision that would allow them salary-cap flexibility for 2020-21. As for Andersson, I’ll be surprised if he’s still with the Rangers’ organization next season.
THE MERCURY NEWS: In a recent mailbag segment, Curtis Pashelka was asked if Martin Jones would keep his job as the San Jose Sharks’ starting goalie next season. His guess is Jones will be back, but he also felt the Sharks must seek a goalie with NHL experience who can play 35-40 games. Braden Holtby could be out of their price range, but perhaps Robin Lehner or Cam Talbot fits the bill. Pashelka also doesn’t rule out Aaron Dell returning if Lehner or Talbot proves too expensive.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Holtby will be in the market for a lucrative long-term deal. Lehner could be more affordable, but he’ll also want some long-term security. Talbot might be the best option, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he remains with the Flames.
Updated unrestricted free agent rankings and how the current season shutdown could affect the UFA market in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE HOCKEY NEWS/TSN: St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall, and Boston Bruins blueliner Torey Krug are the top three on Matt Larkin’s and Frank Seravalli’s respective lists of this year’s top NHL unrestricted free agents.
Florida Panthers wingers Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tyson Barrie, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner, Vancouver Canucks winger Tyler Toffoli, Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby, and Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Sami Vatanen round out Larkin’s top-10.
Seravalli had Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom in fourth place (he was 11th on Larkin’s list), followed by Lehner, Hoffman, Dadonov, Toffoli, Holtby, and Barrie. Vatanen was 12th on his ranking.
Other noteworthy players to appear on both lists include Calgary Flames defensemen T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and Erik Gustafsson, Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk, Washington Capitals d-man Brenden Dillon and winger Ilya Kovalchuk, and Florida Panthers forward Erik Haula,
Larkin also included Nashville Predators wingers Mikael Granlund and Craig Smith, Bruins backup goalie Jaroslav Halak and defenseman Zdeno Chara, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz, Winnipeg Jets blueliner Dylan DeMelo, Capitals rearguard Radko Gudas, New York Islanders netminder Thomas Greiss, Toronto Maple Leafs center Jason Spezza, Vancouver Canucks d-man Chris Tanev, Carolina Hurricanes winger Justin Williams, and Ottawa Senators defender Mark Borowiecki.
Seravalli’s ranking included Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Justin Braun, Hurricanes blueliner Joel Edmundson, Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, Leafs defenseman Cody Ceci, Blues rearguard Marco Scandella and Dallas Stars netminder Anton Khudobin.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think most observers will agree where Pietrangelo, Hall, and Krug sit among this year’s top UFAs. I’m sure there will be considerable disagreement over where the others are ranked.
For example, I think Barrie’s struggles in Toronto this season could send his UFA stock tumbling. Remember, some observers (including yours truly) considered Jake Gardiner among last year’s top-10 free agents, and he wound up waiting until September to get a deal that was well below the $6 million annually he was projected to get.
It’s also safe to say some of these players, such as Chara, Crawford, and Williams, are likely to re-sign with their current clubs.
Seravalli reports the effects of the current league shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty for this year’s free-agent market. One agent expects the players will have a hard time going backward financially, but that’s what’s going to happen because of the pandemic. Should the salary cap remain at $81.5 million next season, many free agents may have to accept significantly less than they expect.
One agent pointed out there won’t be much of a market for top UFA. Only bottom-feeding clubs will have the most money to spend, but they’re usually not attractive destinations for free-agent talent. Seravalli suggests players might accept short-term deals for less money in the hope of trying to cash in later.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Players will still try to get the best deals they can, but I concur most won’t find the lucrative offers they would’ve received in a normal year. I agree with Seravalli that many could accept one- or two-year deals for less money and try their luck again in a year or two, or opt for the security of term over dollars.
The UFA market could also be flooded with additional players if the league and the NHLPA agreed to implement compliance buyouts for this off-season as a means of helping cap-strapped clubs hit hard by the shutdown. That could also drive down prices for free-agent talent.
Check out the latest Flames and Capitals speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST ON THE FLAMES
SPORTSNET: Eric Francis recently examined four of the biggest off-season questions facing the Calgary Flames.
Francis believes it may have been clear to management to consider trading Johnny Gaudreau and/or Sean Monahan had they failed to get the Flames into the playoffs this season or beyond the opening round. Assuming the schedule doesn’t resume, Gaudreau and Monahan will get another shot at it next year.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t think the Flames will move Gaudreau and/or Monahan following this season. If the schedule resumes this summer and the Flames struggle again, it will be a justifiable reason not to peddle one or both of their young stars. Nevertheless, those two will feel the pressure to step it up next season. Another disappointing finish in 2020-21 will raise questions over their respective futures in Calgary.
Five of their nine defensemen – Travis Hamonic, TJ Brodie, Michael Stone, Erik Gustafsson, and Derek Forbort – are unrestricted free agents. Keeping Hamonic or Brodie could be the priority, while Calgary-resident Stone could be re-signed at the league minimum as a short-term insurance policy.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Flames are fortunate to have some promising youngsters that can replace those UFA blueliners they don’t re-sign. I can see them keeping Hamonic or Brodie to maintain some experienced stability on the right side of their blueline. I agree with Francis’ take on Stone. Gustafsson and Forbort, meanwhile, were short-term pickups to buoy the Flames’ defense down the stretch and into this postseason
Re-signing Cam Talbot and what form of compensation they’ll get from last summer’s James Neal-for-Milan Lucic are other questions facing the Flames. Talbot resurrected his career in Calgary, but Francis wondered if he might prefer playing where he can get more playing time.
The Flames were supposed to receive a third-round pick in 2020 if Neal scored 21 goals and Lucic ten fewer than Neal. Neal has 19 goals and Lucic eight. If the season isn’t resumed, the Flames could appeal for a ruling from the league.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If the Flames are comfortable with David Rittich was their starter, they can afford to part ways with Talbot unless he’s willing to accept the backup role. They can find some suitable replacements for him via the UFA market.
CAPITALS FREE-AGENTS UPDATE
THE ATHLETIC: Tarik El-Bashir recently examined the decisions faced by Washington Capitals managment regarding their unrestricted free agents.
Despite the second-half improvement in goaltender Braden Holtby‘s performance, his days are likely numbered in Washington. The Caps’ limited cap room makes him too expensive to re-sign. Meanwhile, recently-acquired winger Ilya Kovalchuk‘s performance over the rest of the schedule and the Capitals cap space will determine whether they can afford him.
A strong finish to the season could earn recently-acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon a contract extension if his asking price is reasonable. Blueliner Radko Gudas appeared the odd-man-out in recent games, which doesn’t bode well for his return.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I concur with those assessments. With over $71 million invested in 16 players for 2020-21, they’ll only have around $10 million to work with if the cap remains at $81.5 million.
Despite his struggles, Holtby will seek a raise over his current $6 million AAV. With Ilya Samsonov their future starter, they have little choice but to part ways with Holtby following this season. Kovalchuk, meanwhile, is reportedly all-but-assured of returning to the Montreal Canadiens on a one-year, bonus-laden deal next season.