The NHL Buyout Barometer – Pacific Division (Part II)
Check out the latest on the Leafs, Oilers, and Devils in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SHOULD THE LEAFS PURSUE BONINO?
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Luke Fox was asked if pursing a third-line center was a priority for Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. Fox believes acquiring a top-four, right-shot defenseman remains Dubas’ priority, but feels improving the depth at center should be next.
The reader proposed pursuing Nashville Predators center Nick Bonino. Fox believes he’d be a wonderful addition but doubts the Predators will part with him. He instead suggested some short-term UFA options like Joe Thornton, Derick Brassard, Nate Thompson, Brad Richardson, or Greg McKegg.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Predators GM David Poile still considers his club a contender. I don’t see him moving Bonino.
Cap Friendly indicates the Predators have over $72 million invested in 16 players for 2020-21. They could use some cap relief if they hope to re-sign UFAs like Mikael Granlund and Craig Smith, but Poile could consider other cost-cutting options (hello there, Kyle Turris).
The Leafs, meanwhile, have over $76.9 million tied up in 16 players. That’s not much room to pursue a top-four defenseman and a third-line center. They’ll have to shop one or two salaried players to address those needs.
One reader proposed the Leafs swap Morgan Rielly and William Nylander to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Seth Jones and Josh Anderson. Fox loves the idea of such a blockbuster deal but noted how NHL teams love their talent too much to make such transactions. He also pointed out Jones and Rielly are massively popular in their respective markets.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If you’re gonna dream, dream big. Thanks to the salary cap, true blockbuster trades are increasingly rare.
OILERS COULD KEEP 2020 THIRD-ROUND PICK
EDMONTON JOURNAL: Jim Matheson reports the NHL deciding the regular season is over could mean the Oilers won’t have to part with their conditional 2020 third-round pick to the Calgary Flames. It was part of the deal that saw the Oilers ship winger Milan Lucic to Edmonton in exchange for winger James Neal.
Under the conditions of the trade, the Oilers’ pick would’ve belonged to the Flames if Neal scored 21 goals this season. He had 19 when the schedule was paused. Oilers GM Ken Holland said he hasn’t been officially told that’s the case.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis said the league still hasn’t addressed how it will sort out this season’s conditional trades. He suggested three possible approaches. One, the season is interpreted as having ended at 71 games, meaning the Oilers keep their pick. Two, the league prorate results over 82 games, meaning Neal could be credited with 22 goals and the Flames get the pick. The third is a compromise in which the Flames get some lesser draft compensation from the Oilers.
SUGGESTED BLUELINE TRADE TARGETS FOR THE DEVILS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): In a recent mailbag segment, Corey Masisak was asked about realistic blueline trade targets for the New Jersey Devils.
Masisak ruled out pursuing young defensemen on potentially cap-strapped teams like Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev and St. Louis’ Vince Dunn as he expects they’ll be re-signed by their respective clubs. Older, short-term options could be available, such as Chicago’s Olli Maatta or Arizona’s Niklas Hjalmarsson.
He also noted the Buffalo Sabres have too many blueliners, suggesting Colin Miller as a target. He also wondered if the Minnesota Wild might part with Jonas Brodin. Even some potential free agent bargains like Cody Ceci or Joel Edmundson might be worthwhile for the right term and price.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Masisak believes the Devils’ priority could be adding a defenseman or two after trading away Sami Vatanen and Andy Greene in February. Who they target, however, depends upon who’s sitting in the GM’s chair following this season. Will interim GM Tom Fitzgerald remains on the job, or will they hire someone else?
Recent speculation on the Oilers, Flames, and Red Wings in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Mark Spector was asked if the Edmonton Oilers might bring back Taylor Hall if they can shed some salary. He felt there’s zero chance of the 28-year-old winger returning to Edmonton, pointing out the Oilers already carry several players with expensive contracts. “I think it’s a dream Oilers fans should wake up from. Hall’s not coming back,” wrote Spector.
(NOT MARK) SPECTOR’S NOTE: I agree with “Cousin Mark”. Hall returning to the Oilers is a pipe dream. Stop pining about what could’ve been and look forward.
Asked out the most likely scenario for Jesse Puljujarvi, Spector said the Oilers prefer he returns and plays for them. If he doesn’t, they could let him spend another season in Finland (where he’ll make less money), or trade him at the draft for perhaps two second-round picks, or a second and a prospect (the Oilers lack a second-rounder in this year’s draft). Spector thinks Puljujarvi should return to the Oilers on a one-year deal and prove he can still play.
(STILL NOT MARK) SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers handle this situation. Puljujarvi’s done well in Finland (53 points in 56 games), but that’s not much of an indicator whether he can be an effective NHL player.
Asked if Sam Gagner might sign with the Oilers as an unrestricted free agent, Spector believes he will. He’d be an affordable signing, his home is in Edmonton, and Oilers general manager Ken Holland could see Gagner as a future member of the front office.
(THE OTHER ) SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gagner is completing a three-year deal worth an annual average value of $3.15 million. He’s not getting that much ever again, but he could be a decent fourth-line pickup for the Oilers (or somebody else) on a one-year, $900K contract.
SPORTSNET: Eric Francis recently opened up the mailbag to address questions from Calgary Flames fans. Asked if the Flames might shake up their core, Francis doesn’t believe they will. Acknowledging the production of stars like Johnny Gaudreau is down this season, he feels the early end to this season ensures Gaudreau will return next season. He thinks players like Gaudreau and Monahan shouldn’t be shopped until they’ve had a shot at redemption.
(THE BETTER-LOOKING) SPECTOR’S NOTE: I didn’t put any stock into the trade rumors involving Gaudreau and Sean Monahan this season. Yes, their production was down this season, but they’re only a year removed from their respective career-high point totals. They’re still in the mid-twenties and very much in their playing prime. Unless they asked to be moved, they’re not going anywhere.
Francis thinks the Flames will kick tires on Taylor Hall if he tests the UFA market but believes they’ll use their cap space to plug holes in their defense corps than overspending on Hall. He also doesn’t see both T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic returning next season but Brodie could stay.
Francis also sees the Flames attempting to re-sign UFA goalie Cam Talbot or taking a stab at Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom or Vegas’ Robin Lehner. He doesn’t think they’ll try to buy out Milan Lucic’s contract, pointing out he fills an effective physical role, as well as his popularity with his teammates and among Calgary fans.
Asked if interim coach Geoff Ward will remain as their bench boss after this season, Francis believes he will, citing GM Brad Treliving saying he’s seen enough to make his decision. Following a shaky start, the Flames turned things around under Ward, who has a year remaining on his contract.
THE DETROIT NEWS: Ted Kulfan recently weighed in with his thoughts on what Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman will do with his 12 restricted free agents.
Tyler Bertuzzi will likely get a long-term deal. Anthony Mantha’s situation could be more complicated. He could sign a one-year deal to post up big numbers before his UFA eligibility in two years, or the Wings could ink him to a four- or five-year deal believing he’ll keep progressing.
Kulfan believes Robby Fabbri has shown enough this season to be part of the Wings’ short-term future. He expects Adam Erne to be re-signed but feels he must take a bigger step forward.
He wouldn’t be surprised if the Wings cut ties with Madison Bowey and Brendan Perlini.
More compliance buyout speculation and how the Canadiens cap space could serve them well in the off-season in today’s NHL rumor mill.
HYPOTHETICAL COMPLIANCE BUYOUT CANDIDATES
SPORTSNET: Luke Fox reports the anticipation of the 2020-21 NHL salary cap taking a COVID-19 hit has generated speculation the league and the NHL Players Association could agree to the implementation of compliance contract buyouts. He listed 11 hypothetical amnesty buyout candidates, with Vancouver’s Loui Eriksson ($6 million annual average value through 2021-22) topping the list. With Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Tyler Toffoli and others to re-sign, a compliance buyout window would help the Canucks.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canucks were rumored looking into trading Eriksson last summer, but couldn’t find any takers for his contract. Given the complications they’ll face if the salary cap remains at $81.5 million, he’ll be a prime compliance buyout candidate.
Others could include Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader ($4.25 million AAV through 2022-23), Chicago’s Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million AAV through 2023-24) provided he’s recovered from his recent surgeries, Calgary’s Milan Lucic ($6 million through 2023-24), Montreal’s Karl Alzner ($4.625 million through 2021-22), and the New York Islanders’ Andrew Ladd ($5.5 million through 2022-23).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox points out the Wings can afford to absorb Abdelkader and Frans Nielsen ($5.25 million AAV through 2021-22), but general manager Steve Yzerman could avail himself of the opportunity to shed the expensive contracts of fading veterans.
if Seabrook hasn’t been medically cleared to return to action during the buyout period (whenever that might be), the Blackhawks won’t be able to avail themselves of that option. Lucic, Alzner, and Ladd are probably goners. The Isles attempted to trade Ladd to the Minnesota Wild as part of a complicated deal for Zach Parise at the trade deadline.
Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo ($6 million AAV through 2022-23), Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million AAV through 2025-26), the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist (one year at $8.5 million), Edmonton’s James Neal ($5.75 million through 2022-23) and Anaheim’s David Backes ($6 million for one more season) round out this list.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I can see those guys receiving compliance buyouts. A couple of readers questioned Bobrovsky being a candidate when I wrote about this in an earlier Rumor update, claiming he’s the victim of the Panthers’ woeful defense.
That’s as may be, but there’s no denying the two-time Vezina Trophy winner has struggled over the last two years. His performance this season was not the Panthers’ front office banked on when they signed him to that whopping big contract.
There’s talk that ownership will want to slash payroll if they miss the playoffs this season. An amnesty buyout for Bobrovsky would be the easiest option.
LATEST ON THE CANADIENS
SPORTSNET: Eric Engels believes the Montreal Canadiens could be well-positioned to use their cap space to their advantage once the salary-cap figures are determined for 2020-21.They have over $63 million invested in 16 players.
Re-signing restricted free agents Max Domi and Victor Mete and re-signing or replacing other free agents will have little impact upon next summer, when such notables as Tomas Tatar, Joel Armia, Jeff Petry, and Phillip Danault will become free agents. Engels suggested they’d have more flexibility if they traded Domi for a defenseman like Minnesota’s Matt Dumba.
Engels believes it’s all but assured winger Ilya Kovalchuk will return to the Canadiens on a bonus-laden deal next season. He also anticipates they’ll look to the UFA market for a reliable backup for Carey Price. He doubts they’ll go the offer-sheet route this summer, but they could target cap-strapped clubs looking to make cost-cutting trades before the start of next season, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Vegas Golden Knights.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Canadiens fans and pundits have been waiting for Bergevin to use his cap space to provide a significant boost to the roster. This summer could provide that opportunity if the cap remains flat and compliance buyouts aren’t implemented as a cost-cutting measure.
As for the suggestion of trading Domi for Dumba, the latter lacks no-trade protection, but it could be premature to believe Wild GM Bill Guerin will go that route. If he does, he’ll be shopping Dumba to the highest bidder, meaning Domi might not be enough to pry him away from the Wild.
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask ponders retirement at the end of his current contract, plus a look at several potential compliance buyout candidates in today’s NHL rumor mill.
COULD RASK RETIRE AT THE END OF HIS CONTRACT?
THE SCORE: Brandon Maron reports Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask isn’t ruling out retirement at the end of his current contract. In an interview with the Boston Globe’s Matt Porter, Rask hinted at hanging up his pads when his contract expires in 2021. “I have one year left in the contract, so we’ll see if I even play,” Rask said. “We’ll see. Always a possibility.”
The 33-year-old netminder ruled out returning to play in his native Finland, citing family reasons. “Just be home. The wear and tear of the travel with two, almost three kids now, makes you think. I love to do it. But it’s tough.” Maron indicates Rask leads the league in goals-against average (2.12) and sits second with a .929 save percentage.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: While that report will likely cause the collective hearts of Bruins fans to skip a beat, Rask isn’t saying for certain that he’s packing it in after next season. It could just be some early posturing on his part to perhaps encourage Bruins management to open contract extension talks following the end of this season, whenever that might be.
Nevertheless, it’s an indication that Rask re-signing with Boston isn’t a sure thing. If he does retire, the Bruins will be scrambling to find a suitable replacement next year.
POSSIBLE COMPLIANCE BUYOUT CANDIDATES
EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples recently examined which players could receive compliance buyouts if the NHL implements that policy to help cap-strapped club shed salary next season. He cited Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke floating that possibility in a recent interview with Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now: “I’ve heard discussion of compliance buyouts to help teams get to this new cap, to solve some of their problems. Which they gave in the last CBA, each team got two cap-compliance buyouts which were exempt from the cap. I’ve heard talk of that, said Burke.
Staples considers “Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader and Frans Nielson…Andrew Ladd of the New York Islanders, Milan Lucic of the Flames, Kyle Okposo of the Sabres, and Loui Eriksson of Vancouver” as the most obvious possibilities among NHL forwards.
Defensemen could include New Jersey’s P.K. Subban and St. Louis’ Justin Faulk, while Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and New Jersey’s Cory Schneider (provided his injury status would allow it) are his likely goalie candidates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Interesting compilation from Staples. I agree with his assessment of those most likely to receive compliance (amnesty) buyouts.
For now, of course, there’s no certainty the NHL and NHL Players Association will implement that buyout scheme. Much will depend upon whether the league can finish this season and how much of their lost revenue they can recoup.
The two sides could also agree to an artificial cap that could be higher than the current $81.5 million. That would eliminate the need for such buyouts.
The latest on the Islanders, several stars who may have played their final NHL games, and questions about conditional draft picks in the Sunday NHL rumor roundup.
ISLANDERS WOULD MATCH OFFER SHEET FOR BARZAL
SPORTSNET: In a recent Q&A with New York Islanders fans, general manager Lou Lamoriello said it wasn’t his intention to let contract talks with Mathew Barzal reach the point where the 22-year-old center received an offer sheet from a rival club. If Barzal did sign one, however, Lamoriello said he’d match it. He remains confident in getting Barzal and fellow restricted free agents Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews re-signed.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Isles have over $71 million invested in 18 players. Assuming the salary cap remains at $81.5 million, Lamoriello will be hard-pressed to squeeze new contracts for Barzal, Pulock, and Toews within that $10 million of cap space available to him.
Matching an expensive offer sheet would gobble up almost all of that cap room. Lamoriello would get some cap wiggle room as he’s allowed to exceed the cap by 10 percent during the off-season, but he must shed salary before the start of the season to become cap compliant.
I doubt Lamoriello’s worried about a rival GM signing Barzal to an offer sheet. Most NHL clubs will feel the financial squeeze from this pandemic, leaving few with enough cap room to take a run at poaching the young Isles center.
SEVERAL STARS WHO MAY HAVE PLAYED THEIR FINAL NHL GAMES
THE ATHLETIC: New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, Anaheim Ducks goalie Ryan Miller, and Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu are among those on James Mirtle’s list of 15 NHL players who may have played their final NHL games if this season is canceled.
Others include Carolina Hurricanes winger Justin Williams, St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, and Anaheim Ducks winger David Backes.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think Lundqvist may have played his last game with the Rangers, but I can see him playing with another NHL club if he waives his no-movement clause or is bought out of his current contract. Miller turns 40 in July and I suspect the Ducks will replace him with a younger option. If he’s unwilling to leave Calfornia, he’s likely done. Koivu has already hinted at retirement.
Williams spent half this season mulling retirement before returning to the Hurricanes. He could be done after this. Bouwmeester’s recent cardiac incident has likely ended his playing career. Seabrook’s double hip surgeries place his playing career in jeopardy. Ditto Backes’ concussion history.
WHAT TO DO WITH CONDITIONAL DRAFT PICKS FROM RECENT TRADES?
TSN: Frank Seravalli recently reported there are many questions about how the NHL deals with the minutiae related to contracts and trades if the schedule is reduced or canceled. What happens with conditional draft picks involved in recent trades is among those issues.
In last summer’s deal that saw the Edmonton Oilers ship Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal, the Flames get a conditional third-round pick if Neal tallies 21 goals and Lucic under 10 this season.
“What does the NHL do moving forward here? Do they decide to prorate it? In which case Lucic would remain under 10 and Neal gets to about 23? Or do they decide to leave it as is and that’s just one of the questions at stake with regards to other bonuses in contracts and compensation? Things like expansion draft considerations and also other picks that changed hands for deals at the deadline. Can we see things like compensatory picks and such.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This issue will have to be sorted out once a final decision is reached regarding the remainder of this season and the playoffs. For now, your guess is as good as mine.