NHL Free Agent Flat Cap Fallout – Metropolitan Division
Check out the recent speculation on the Penguins, Islanders, and Kings in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TIGHT BUDGETS LEAVE PENGUINS, ISLANDERS FACING DIFFICULT DECISIONS
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE: Mike DeFabo recently reported the flat salary cap for 2020-21 ($81.5 million) will leave the Penguins facing some hard choices in the off-season. They have over $68 million invested in next season’s payroll.
All of their top-six forwards and top-four defensemen are under contract for ’20-’21. Unless general manager Jim Rutherford creates some cap room via trade, they won’t have enough to re-sign all their key free agents.
Topping the list are restricted free agent goaltenders Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. It could take a deal comparable to Columbus’ Elvis Merzlikins (two years, $4 million annual average value) to re-sign Jarry. Murray’s playoff record and inconsistent regular-season play could be worth something like the $5.1 million Jimmy Howard makes with Detroit and $6.4 million like Anaheim’s John Gibson. Keeping Murray and Jarry could mean trading a skater.
Unrestricted free agent defenseman Justin Schultz’s season has hampered by injury. Letting him walk could open a big hole on the blueline. It’s uncertain if the reacquisition of UFA winger Conor Sheary was for the short or long term. DeFabo also wondered if trade deadline pickup Patrick Marleau would be willing to return for the minimum salary.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Rather than trade a skater, Rutherford could trade Murray or Jarry and call up Casey DeSmith as a full-time backup next season. Schultz indicated he’d like to stay, but he might have to take a pay cut from his $5.5 million to do so.
Marleau could return to San Jose for one more year or retire if he wins the Cup in the upcoming tournament. I think Rutherford wants to re-sign Sheary but that will depend upon what happens with the goaltenders and Schultz.
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Arthur Staple recently examined the New York Islanders’ options with limited cap room for next season.
Staple speculates their UFAs (Matt Martin, Derick Brassard, Tom Kuhnhackl, Andy Greene, and Thomas Greiss) might not return next season. The focus will be on re-signing RFAs Mathew Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and Devon Toews.
Going the trade route would mean shopping defenseman Nick Leddy or Thomas Hickey. Staple doubts oft-injured Johnny Boychuk will attract must interest.
Forwards Andrew Ladd and Leo Komarov could also be trade options, but the Isles might have to package either guy with next year’s first-round pick or a top prospect. Komarov also seems the most likely buyout candidate. Staple also doesn’t rule out Ladd and Komarov starting next season on long-term injury reserve.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello has demonstrated his salary-cap creativity in the past to free up sufficient room to address his roster needs. Given the number of clubs with limited cap room for next season, he’ll have to strike fast in the trade market to dump a salary or two. Of the trade candidates listed by Staple, Leddy might attract the most interest, but his $5.5 million cap hit through 2021-22 could be a sticking point.
WILL THE KINGS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FLAT CAP?
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Lisa Dillman recently reported Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake said back in April his club had flexibility under the flat cap, but he thought the big cap year for his club was a year away. However, he did say they were in a position to look at some things.
The Kings have over $60.7 million invested in their payroll for ’20-’21. Dillman suggested signing Vancouver Canucks defenseman Chris Tanev or Florida Panthers versatile forward Erik Haula if they test the UFA market at season’s end.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Blake is expected to resist the temptation of pursuing a big-ticket UFA this year. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t consider adding a veteran or two at a reasonable price. Someone like Tanev or Haula on a short-term deal could provide some experienced depth as the Kings develop their promising youngsters.
Tanev’s performance has declined a bit in recent years. Haula looks like he still hasn’t fully recovered from the knee injury that cost him most of last season.
A look at this year’s top UFA defensemen plus the latest Canadiens speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TOP DEFENSEMEN IN THIS YEAR’S NHL UFA MARKET
THE SCORE: St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo, Boston’s Torey Krug, and former Winnipeg Jet Dustin Byfuglien top Josh Wegman’s listing of this year’s top NHL defensemen. Calgary’s TJ Brodie and Toronto’s Tyson Barrie round out the top five.
Vancouver’s Chris Tanev, Calgary’s Travis Hamonic, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Shattenkirk, Carolina’s Sami Vatanen, and Winnipeg’s Dylan DeMelo complete the top 10.
Other notables include Pittsburgh Justin Schultz, Washington’s Radko Gudas, and Edmonton’s Mike Green.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: No question Pietrangelo and Krug top the bill among this year’s class of UFA blueliners. Both will be among this summer’s most-prized free agents.
The Blues’ limited salary-cap space could see Pietrangelo depart if they cannot free up sufficient room to re-sign him. The Bruins could have an easier time keeping Krug in the fold, but they might also have to shed some salary to do it.
I wouldn’t place Byfuglien that high on the list. While his talent is undeniable, there’s no indication he intends to continue his playing career after his contract was mutually terminated following a season-long absence over a dispute regarding the seriousness of his ankle injury. His recent injury history and age (35) could also make clubs leery of pursuing him if the salary cap remains flat next season.
Had Schultz been healthier, I think he would’ve ranked higher on the list. That could work to the advantage of interested clubs. He might have to accept a one-year “show-me” deal for perhaps less than the $5.5 million annual average value on his current deal. It’ll be interesting to see how some of the others on this list fare on the open market under a flat cap.
SHOULD THE CANADIENS PURSUE JOSH ANDERSON?
SPORTSNET: In his latest mailbag segment, Eric Engels was asked if the Montreal Canadiens should target Josh Anderson if the Columbus Blue Jackets’ winger becomes available in the trade market. While Engels admires Anderson’s size and speed, he’s concerned about giving up assets for a winger coming off a serious shoulder injury who’s a year away from UFA status.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I agree. Anderson would provide some valuable size and physicality up front for the Habs, but those factors Engels noted raise red flags. Better to shop around for healthier options in the trade market.
Check out the latest on the Detroit Red Wings in today’s NHL rumor mill.
MLIVE.COM: Ansar Khan reports the Detroit Red Wings season may be over, but general manager Steve Yzerman faces a busy off-season.
One of his first decisions will be whether to pick up the option year in head coach Jeff Blashill’s contract or find a new bench boss. Gerard Gallant and Lane Lambert (former Yzerman teammates) could be among the candidates.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gallant won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year for guiding the Vegas Golden Knights to the 2018 Stanley Cup in their expansion season. He could become the front-runner if the job becomes available.
In addition to deciding which of his free agents to re-sign, Khan speculates Yzerman could look to this year’s unrestricted free agent market for affordable second- and third-tier talent on short-term deals as stop-gap measures during the roster rebuild. He believes the Wings need a winger with scoring ability, a pair of defensemen, and a backup goaltender.
Khan also anticipates Yzerman will make low-risk value trades similar to his acquisitions of Robby Fabbri and Brendan Perlini.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Fabbri acquisition worked out well, but Perlini struggled throughout this season and probably won’t be back. Nevertheless, Yzerman will likely keep his eye open for once-promising players struggling with other clubs who could benefit from a fresh start elsewhere.
THE DETROIT NEWS: Ted Kulfan recently posted a three-part series examining potential UFA targets to address the Red Wings’ roster needs.
He doubts Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall or Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby will be interested in joining a rebuilding clubs like the Wings. He also expects the St. Louis Blues will re-sign Alex Pietrangelo while Michigan native Torey Krug could be re-signed by the Boston Bruins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some pundits suggested Krug might be willing to return home if he can’t sign with the Bruins. While we shouldn’t rule it out, I think he’d prefer playing for a contender.
Kulfan’s list of proposed forward options includes Colorado’s Vladislav Namestnikov, Florida’s Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman, or Erik Haula, Nashville’s Mikael Granlund, Vegas’ Tomas Nosek, or the New York Rangers’ Jesper Fast.
Blueline possibilities could include Toronto’s Tyson Barrie, Pittsburgh’s Justin Schultz, Washington’s Brenden Dillon, or the New York Islanders’ Andy Greene.
Goaltending targets could include Vegas’ Robin Lehner, but the term and price would have to be worked on). Others include Dallas’ Anton Khudobin, the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, and Calgary’s Cam Talbot.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Wings have over $46.2 million invested in 11 players. Once Yzerman re-signs key free agents like Fabbri, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Anthony Mantha, he’ll have plenty of cap room to bring in a couple of quality veteran free agents on short-term deals.
With the salary cap remaining around $81.5 million and several clubs looking to pinch pennies, that could work in Yzerman’s favor. If he sticks to affordable short-term options, he’ll have plenty to choose from once the notable names are snapped up.
Check out the recent Canucks, Penguins, and Red Wings’ speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien believes the Vancouver Canucks need a lot of help on defense. He also pointed out they’re top-heavy on offense. Starting goalie Jacob Markstrom is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, while backup Thatcher Demko is only signed through next season.
O’Brien believes general manager Jim Benning will try to use the draft and the trade market to bolster the supporting cast around Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes. He also wondered if they’ll break the bank to re-sign pending UFA winger Tyler Toffoli or sign 30-year-old pending free agent blueliner Chris Tanev to a risky contract.
THE ATHLETIC: Harman Dayal and Thomas Drance think Tanev, Jordie Benn, and Sven Baertschi are the Canucks most likely to move on. Moving Benn and Baertschi would free up valuable salary-cap space. They also suggest Brandon Sutter could be a realistic ordinary course buyout candidate. Moving veteran winger Loui Eriksson ($6 million annual average value through 2021-22) could be difficult, while it’s uncertain if the Canucks can re-sign Toffoli.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Considering how the Canucks struggled when Markstrom was sidelined by a knee injury, re-signing him should be their priority, followed by boosting their blueline corps. With over $63.4 million invested in 14 players for 2020-21, they’ll have around $18 million to work with if the cap remains at $81.5 million next season. There’s enough to re-sign Markstrom, but it will cut deeply into their available payroll.
A couple of cost-cutting moves will help, but finding a suitable deal under a flat cap won’t be easy. It’ll certainly make the chances of moving Eriksson more difficult, even with his actual total remaining salary dropping to $5 million after his signing bonus is paid out on July 1. A compliance buyout would help here, but there’s no certainty the league and the NHLPA will implement that measure in the off-season.
TRIBLIVE.COM: Seth Rorabaugh recently examined the Pittsburgh Penguins’ free agents. He feels it wouldn’t be unreasonable for RFA goalie Matt Murray to seek a hefty contract extension comparable to Tampa Bay’s Andrej Vasilevskiy ($9.5 million AAV) or Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck ($6.16 million AAV) because he’s had better postseason success. However, it’s also not unreasonable for the Penguins to consider a more affordable option such as re-signing fellow RFA Tristan Jarry.
Rorabaugh doesn’t expect UFA winger Patrick Marleau to return to the Penguins after this season. Justin Schultz‘s difficult 2019-20 season and the emergence of rookie defenseman John Marino likely signals the end of his tenure in Pittsburgh. Rorabaugh doesn’t rule out the Pens re-signing Conor Sheary if the price is right.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Penguins have over $68.2 million tied up in 15 players for next season. It’ll be interesting to see what the Penguins do with Murray and Jarry.
Ideally, GM Jim Rutherford would probably sign both to short-term contracts and take more time to evaluate their performances before settling on which one should be their starter. With both goalies carrying arbitration rights, that might be possible, but all concerned might prefer avoiding that route. If they have to part with one or the other, Casey DeSmith is ready and able to step into the backup position.
DETROIT FREE PRESS: Helene St. James reports acquiring a new starting goaltender is among the off-season tasks facing Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman. The Washington Capitals’ Braden Holtby is the best of this summer’s UFA goalies, but St. James believes he’d be reluctant to join a rebuilding club like the Wings.
More realistic options could include the Calgary Flames’ Cam Talbot, the Boston Bruins’ Jaroslav Halak, the Dallas Stars’ Anton Khudobin, the New York Islanders’ Thomas Greiss, and the Vancouver Canucks’ Jacob Markstrom.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Talbot and Markstrom have more recent starter experience. Halak, Khudobin, and Greiss are better backup options for clubs with a skilled starter. The Wings have plenty of salary-cap room ($46.2 million committed to 11 players) to make a substantial bid for one of them. Whether they’ll accept it, or if Yzerman intends to go the UFA route to boost his goaltending, remains to be seen.