Top Players Still Available in the 2019 NHL UFA Market
An update on CBA negotiations plus the latest on Patrice Bergeron, Max Domi, Pavel Zacha, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NBC SPORTS: The quiet nature of recent labor negotiations between the NHL and NHL Players Association is breeding cautious optimism another work stoppage can be avoided. The NHLPA has until Sept. 15 to opt out of the current agreement effective next September.
The two sides met twice in the past five days and discussions are expected to continue this week. Several players, including Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and St. Louis Blues center Ryan O’Reilly, are hopeful those discussions could lead to a positive outcome.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There’s a sense the league and the PA are trying to reach some sort of agreement before Sept. 15. Publicly, both sides claim talks remain cordial and productive. We’ll find out soon enough if anything comes out of these ongoing negotiations. Should the PA pass on the early opt-out, the current CBA will expire on Sept. 2022.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins center Patrice Bergeron still feels the effects of a nagging groin injury but expects to be ready when training camp opens this week. He’s not concerned about his readiness for the start of the season. Defenseman John Moore, meanwhile, is still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and will miss the start of camp.
TVA SPORTS: Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said he’s had discussions with Max Domi’s representatives regarding a contract extension. The 24-year-old forward will be a restricted free agent next summer with arbitration rights.
In other Canadiens news, they won’t be inviting unrestricted free agent winger Jason Pominville to training camp. Management wants their young players to have a fair chance to crack the roster.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Pominville was open to joining the Habs and he’s also hopeful of returning to the Buffalo Sabres. If they’re not interested, he’ll have to consider other options, provided any remain available to him.
NORTHJERSEY.COM: Reports indicate New Jersey Devils center Pavel Zacha signed a one-year contract with KHL team Avangard Omsk but neither club confirmed the signing. The KHL doesn’t include an opt-out clause in their contracts, meaning Zacha would have to play the entire season in Russia.
Devils GM Ray Shero said he didn’t care where Zacha signs as his club still holds the center’s NHL rights. Shero said playing in the KHL isn’t the path he advocates for the restricted free agent, adding it’s a long road back to the NHL.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Shero apparently wasn’t happy with that news, reportedly peppering his response with expletives. Zacha’s representatives could believe signing a KHL contract will pressure Shero into meeting their NHL contract demands. Judging by Shero’s remarks, that tactic may have backfired. He could be losing patience with the 22-year-old Zacha, who has averaged 25 points a year during his three seasons with the Devils.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Former Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik was named to the club’s player development department.
TAMPA BAY TIMES: Long-time Lightning play-by-play broadcaster Rick Peckham will retire at the end of this season.
Updates on Mitch Marner, Charlie McAvoy, and Jason Pominville in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TSN: In an interview with Bob McKenzie, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas remains optimistic about getting Mitch Marner re-signed before training camp opens on Sept. 13. He said he had discussions with the restricted free agent winger’s agent as recently as last week.
McKenzie’s colleague Pierre LeBrun reports Dubas has no interest in trading Marner. “That’s not a real avenue that we’ve even remotely explored. It’s our full intention that Mitch Marner will be a Toronto Maple Leaf for a very long time and that’s everything we’re working towards.’’
Writing for The Athletic, LeBrun reports contract term appears to be the sticking point for Marner and other noteworthy RFAs such as Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen, Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point, and Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk.
Regarding Marner, he believes a three-year bridge deal has been discussed but isn’t sure what the annual average value would be. There’s a sense teams could prefer avoiding situations where the player walks directly into unrestricted free agency upon completion of their new deals.
THE LEAFS NATION: cites TSN’s Darren Dreger saying there’s talk of the Leafs and the Marner camp discussing a three-year deal with an AAV of $9.5 million.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: We’ll find out by next Friday if Duba’s optimism will be rewarded. Marner has indicated he won’t attend training camp without a contract and has already looked into training with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland’s National League A.
I don’t doubt Dubas’lack of interest in trading the young winger. Nevertheless, that probably won’t stop the trade speculation if his contract impasse drags into training camp. I daresay we’ll also hear talk of offer sheets but I doubt that scenario will unfold.
BOSTON HOCKEY NOW: Jimmy Murphy cites sources claiming the Boston Bruins are set to return to talks “in earnest” with restricted free agent defenseman Charlie McAvoy. With training camp fast approaching, there’s increased urgency to get a deal done.
Earlier this year, there was talk the blueliner sought a deal comparable to Florida’s Aaron Ekblad’s eight-year, $60-million contract. It’s believed the Bruins countered with something around $5.5 million. Given the Bruins’ current salary-cap crunch and the need to also re-sign Brandon Carlo, there’s talk a bridge deal has been discussed.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Joe Haggerty reports the Bruins could get some cap relief if veteran forward David Backes is placed on long-term injury reserve. There’s talk the 35-year-old winger, who has a history of concussions, has been dealing with an undisclosed injury this summer.
The Bruins currently have around $7 million in salary-cap space with McAvoy and Carlo to re-sign. Placing Backes ($6 million AAV) on LTIR would alleviate that problem.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As with Marner, we’ll learn by the end of next week if the Bruins can hammer out a deal with McAvoy (and Carlo) before training camp opens.
If they end up placing Backes on LTIR they won’t have to worry about making a cost-cutting trade to free up space to re-sign their two blueliners. Of course, that’ll depend on how long he’d be sidelined. If he receives medical clearance to return to action this season, the Bruins will have to shed salary to become cap compliant.
Won’t be long before hockey’s back in full swing. On that note, hearing the #Habs are considering 36-year-old Jason Pominville, who had 16G and 31PTS (avg TOI 12:28) in 73 gms with Buffalo last season. There have been some talks. Nothing imminent, but something to look out for.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) September 3, 2019
Jason Pominville skating in Buffalo still. When asked by @pham1717 about the report he’s negotiating with the Canadiens his reaction was, “Really!? Wow! I’ve been on the ice.”
— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) September 3, 2019
The latest on Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, Travis Hamonic, Jason Pominville, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
THE SCORE: Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice believes the pressure surrounding the contract negotiations of Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor will increase for those players and management as training camp approaches. Jets camp opens on Sept. 13.
Acknowledging the unusually high number of restricted free agent stars still unsigned around the league, Maurice believes once one or two sign the others could quickly follow.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Most of those RFAs are waiting to see who signs first. I anticipate a flurry of last-minute signings before mid-September.
CALGARY SUN: Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic was unconcerned over his name popping up in this summer’s trade rumors. He spent his time preparing for the upcoming season and embracing family life.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Hamonic rumors – and those surrounding T.J. Brodie – quieted after Juuso Valimaki suffered a serious knee injury during off-season training. Most of that speculation has less to do with Hamonic and more with Brodie. Regardless, it appears both blueliners will be staying in Calgary for the upcoming season.
NHL.COM: Unrestricted free agent winger Jason Pominville, 36, hopes to continue his NHL career but said he’s prepared that it could be over after 16 seasons.
THE ATHLETIC: Washington Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny is progressing in his recovery from April’s season-ending hamstring surgery. He’s hoping to be ready for training camp but a return date remains uncertain.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Former Philadelphia Flyers Andrew MacDonald, Matt Read, and Michal Neuvirth are among several players heading to training camps on professional tryout offers.
NEWSDAY: Scott Gomez has stepped down as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders.
TWINCITIES.COM: Minnesota Wild prospect Alexander Khovanov had surgery last Friday to remove a benign bone tumor from his leg.
DETROIT FREE PRESS: Former NHL winger Darren McCarty credits medical marijuana with helping to save him from alcohol and drug addiction. He quit drinking four years ago, lost 60 pounds, is off most of his prescription medication and recently quit smoking cigarettes.
SPORTSNET: Journeyman goaltender Mike McKenna has retired after stints with 15 NHL organizations and 22 professional teams.
Updates on the Sabres, Canucks, and Blackhawks in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST ON RISTOLAINEN AND POMINVILLE
THE BUFFALO NEWS: In a recent mailbag segment, Lance Lysowski was asked if Rasmus Ristolainen will be in the Buffalo Sabres lineup on opening night. He felt the 24-year-old defenseman’s recent comments to a Finnish news outlet indicated he wants out of Buffalo. Lysowski doubted general manager Jason Botterill pulls the trigger unless he gets a package he wants in return. That doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.
In his 10 Sabres storylines to watch, Lysowski noted Ristolainen’s departure seemed imminent when the Sabres acquired right-shot rearguards Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju this summer. Botterill and head coach Ralph Kruger sound prepared for Ristolainen’s return but Lysowski wondered what role he’d play.
THE ATHLETIC: Joe Yerden also weighed in on Ristolainen’s future with the Sabres. They’re not aggressively shopping the defenseman and he hasn’t publicly requested a trade but tension remains in the air.
Yerden suggested the Tampa Bay Lightning, Winnipeg Jets, and Anaheim Ducks as potential destinations. It’s possible Ristolainen might not be moved until sometime during the regular season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The additions of Miller and Jokiharju seems to set the stage for trading Ristolainen. However, if Botterill doesn’t get a decent offer, the blueliner will likely be back for training camp and the start of the regular season.
Ristolainen could stage a holdout but it doesn’t sound like he’s interested in that. If things improve under Kruger, perhaps he will feel more positive about sticking around.
WGR 550: Paul Hamilton reports veteran winger Jason Pominville would still like to return to the Sabres this season. Now an unrestricted free agent, he’s working out in Buffalo with several players (including Sabres d-man Rasmus Dahlin). Botterill said he hasn’t closed the door on bringing back Pominville.
UPDATES ON BOESER AND ERIKSSON
VANCOUVER SUN: Ben Kuzma reports the Canucks are still hopeful of getting restricted free agent winger Brock Boeser under contract before training camp opens next month. Prorating Boeser’s 56 points last season would give him 66. That would align the 22-year-old with San Jose Sharks winger Timo Meier, who inked a four-year, $24-million extension this summer.
Canucks GM Jim Benning said Meier and Winnipeg Jets winger Kyle Connor came up as comparables with Boeser’s camp. He said talks remain constructive as they seek to reach common ground. Boeser’s agent, Ben Hankinson, prefers a four-year deal worth $7 million annually because today’s top players outperform longer commitments.
Meier’s contract is backloaded to give the Sharks an initial break on annual average salary but climbs to $10 million in the final season. He’ll be an RFA when it expires, meaning the qualifying offer will be $10 million. Benning is concerned about that.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’ll be interesting to see what Boeser’s contract eventually looks like but I don’t see Benning agreeing to a deal that’s heavily backloaded. I expect it’ll be in the $7 million AAV range.
Benning on Eriksson: “I had conversations with Loui. At one point in the summer we had conversations with teams to see if there might be a fit for him somewhere – it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen now.”
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) August 20, 2019
COULD THE BLACKHAWKS TRADE GUSTAFSSON?
THE ATHLETIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Mark Lazerus was asked about the possibility of the Chicago Blackhawks trading Erik Gustafsson at the trade deadline. The 27-year-old defenseman enjoyed a breakout performance last season with 60 points.
If Gustafsson continues playing well, Lazerus suggested the Blackhawks could shop him as they likely couldn’t afford to re-sign him. If they’re out of the playoff races by the deadline, it could be an easy decision to make.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Blackhawks have over $61.8 million invested in just 13 players for 2020-21. In addition to Gustafsson, goaltenders Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner will be eligible to become unrestricted free agents. Budding stars Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome will be restricted free agents coming off their entry-level contracts.
Assuming the cap reaches $84 million next season, the Hawks will have around $22 million in cap room. It won’t be enough to keep all their notable free agents. If Crawford’s health issues remain a concern and Lehner plays well, and if they can convince DeBrincat and/or Strome to accept bridge contract, perhaps they could squeeze in a raise for Gustafsson. Otherwise, he could become the odd man out.