NHL Offseason Lookahead – Carolina Hurricanes
The Calder Trophy and Adams Award finalists revealed, plus the latest on David Pastrnak, Shea Weber, Patrik Laine, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
2020 NHL AWARDS UPDATE
NHL.COM: Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes, Chicago Blackhawks winger Dominik Kubalik and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar are the finalists for the 2019-20 Calder Memorial Trophy honoring this season’s rookie-of-the-year.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Kubalik was a pleasant surprise for the Blackhawks this season, become the leading goal-scorer (30) among this season’s rookie class, but he will be overshadowed by Hughes and Makar. During the first half of this season, Makar seemed a lock for the Calder, but Hughes steadily came on throughout the season. The Canucks blueliner leads this season’s rookies in assists (45), points (53), and power-play points (25) while sitting second in ice time, averaging 21:53 per game.
Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, and Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault are this season’s finalists for the Jack Adams Award honoring the league’s top head coach.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cassidy’s Bruins were the NHL’s top team during the regular season. Tortorella’s efforts helped his injury-ravaged Blue Jackets remain a playoff contender. Vigneault guided the Flyers to their first best performance (second in the Metropolitan Division) since 2010-11. Tortorella is a two-time winner (2003-04, 2016-17) of the Adams Award while Vigneault took home the award in 2006-07.
NHL TRAINING CAMP NOTES
THE SCORE: Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine admits he’s not quite up to speed following his lengthy layoff. “Still kind of far away,” he told reporters yesterday. “It’s kind of hard to see myself playing playoff hockey in two weeks.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Laine won’t be the only NHL player trying to shake off the rust and return to game shape following a four-month layoff. He said he’s trying to make the most of it and hopes to be game-ready when the puck drops.
TRIBLIVE.COM: There are mixed reports regarding Matt Murray’s performance in the opening three days of Pittsburgh Penguins’ training camp. Mark Madden cites sources claiming Tristan Jarry is outplaying Murray, but Seth Rorabaugh (who’s covering the Penguins’ training camp) said he’d seen no difference in play between the two. Rorabaugh observed Murray is more often between the pipes when facing some of the Penguins’ top players.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Murray’s restricted free agent status at season’s end ensures he’ll be closely watched in practice and the upcoming playoff tournament. He’s been the subject of frequent trade speculation this season. His performance will determine his future with the Penguins.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON: Bruins winger David Pastrnak joined his teammates for his first practice since completing his mandatory quarantine period after returning from the Czech Republic.
CBS SPORTS: Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his training camp debut before the weekend. He’s been sidelined with an undisclosed issue.
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber returned to full practice Wednesday. He’d spent Tuesday doing drills on his own.
CANES COUNTRY: Sami Vatanen is healthy and looking forward to making an impact with the Carolina Hurricanes in the upcoming playoff tournament. The Hurricanes acquired the 29-year-old defenseman near the trade deadline, but an injury prevented him from suiting up with his new team.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With Dougie Hamilton recovered from a broken leg, he and Vatanen will provide a much-needed boost to the Hurricanes’ defense corps, especially if Brett Pesce (shoulder surgery) remains unable to participate.
NBC SPORTS: The pause in the schedule proved to be a silver lining for a banged-up Columbus Blue Jackets lineup, allowing sidelined players such as Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Cam Atkinson an opportunity to recover.
CALGARY SUN: Flames bench boss Geoff Ward denies he’s split up some of his roster over fitness-related issues. Johnny Gaudreau’s removal from the Flames’ top line raised eyebrows this week.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The league’s clampdown on the players’ medical status only stokes speculation over the motivation behind such moves.
SPORTSNET: The Toronto Maple Leafs were told to stop using on-ice officials during their practices following complaints from rival clubs.
IN OTHER NEWS…
NBC SPORTS CHICAGO: The Blackhawks officially signed defenseman Ian Mitchell to a three-year, entry-level contract beginning next season. He would’ve had the first year of his ELC burned off if he’d joined his teammates for Phase 3 training camp.
THE NEWS & OBSERVER: Former Carolina Hurricanes TV announcer John Forslund will be freelancing for NBC Sports during the upcoming playoff tournament. His status with the Hurricanes remains uncertain since his contract expired last month.
Three teams and five pending UFAs hurt the most by a flat cap in the Sunday NHL rumor roundup.
SPORTSNET: Rory Boylen listed the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and St. Louis Blues as the three teams hurt the most by the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million for 2020-21.
The Leafs have over $76.9 million invested in next season’s cap payroll, the Lightning $76.1 million, and the Blues $79.425 million.
Notable Leafs due for new contracts include Jason Spezza, Kyle Clifford, Travis Dermott, and Ilya Mikheyev. Defensemen Tyson Barrie and Codi Ceci are all but certain to depart via unrestricted free agency. The limited cap room could also be a problem next year when goaltender Frederik Anderson becomes eligible for UFA status.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s widely assumed Leafs general manager Kyle Duba will make a cost-cutting move or two. The Toronto Sun’s Michael Traikos believes a forward like Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, or even William Nylander and his $6.9 million cap hit could be traded in the off-season.
Dubas supposedly promised Nylander he wouldn’t be traded as long as he was the GM, but an unexpected flat cap could provide the perfect excuse. There would be considerable interest in Nylander, but perhaps not that much in his cap hit.
The Lightning has two good young players in defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and center Anthony Cirelli as restricted free agents in the off-season. A new contract for Cirelli alone could take up all of their cap room. Boylen points out winger Alex Killorn’s full no-trade clause becomes a 16-team no-trade at the end of this season, suggesting the Lightning might have to explore those 14 trade options.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Killorn seems the most likely Lightning trade candidate when this season ends. Some have also suggested Tyler Johnson or Yanni Gourde but they’ve got full no-trade clauses and could be unwilling to waive them.
The Blues will have to make a couple of salary-dumping deals if they hope to re-sign defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn. Boylen wonders if Colton Parayko, Tyler Bozak, David Perron, or Jake Allen hit the trade block.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Allen seems a likely trade candidate now that Jordan Binnington’s secured his place as the Blues’ No.1 goaltender. Bozak and Perron have modified no-trade clauses. Of the two, the 32-year-old Perron would have more value than the 34-year-old Bozak, but Perron also has two years (at $4 million annually) left on his contract while Bozak has just one year at $5 million.
Lots of clubs would line up to land Parayko but I don’t think Blues GM Doug Armstrong wants to move him. In a recent mailbag segment, Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch proposed winger Jaden Schwartz as a possible trade option if the Blues re-sign Pietrangelo.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Speaking of Pietrangelo, Ryan Kennedy recently lists the Blues’ captain among five free agents who could get hurt by the flattened salary cap. The others include Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom, Vegas Golden Knights netminder Robin Lehner, and Carolina Hurricanes blueliner Sami Vatanen.
Kennedy speculates those five won’t enjoy the big-money free-agent bonanza they would otherwise get in a normal off-season. Some, like Pietrangelo or Markstrom, might have to accept a hometown discount on short-term deals if they wish to stay with their current clubs. The others might also end up having to accept a shorter term or less money.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: They won’t be the only unrestricted free agents likely to be disappointed by what they’ll likely get in the open market. A few, like Pietrangelo, could still get top dollar but could find those offers coming from rebuilding clubs with plenty of salary-cap space. Those players could be unwilling to join those clubs and instead accept shorter contracts for less money from contenders.
A listing of this year’s top UFA forwards and the latest on the Leafs in today’s NHL rumor mill.
TOP FORWARDS IN THIS YEAR’S UFA MARKET
THE SCORE: Arizona Coyotes winger Taylor Hall, Florida Panthers winger Mike Hoffman, and Vancouver Canucks winger Tyler Toffoli sit atop Josh Gold-Smith’s recent ranking of this year’s top NHL unrestricted free agent forwards. Panthers winger Evgenii Dadonov and Nashville Predators winger Mikael Granlund round out the top five.
Washington Capitals winger Ilya Kovalchuk, Colorado Avalanche forward Vladislav Namestikov, Edmonton Oilers winger Tyler Ennis, Predators winger Craig Smith, and Coyotes center Carl Soderberg complete the top-10.
Other notables include Minnesota Wild forward Alex Galchenyuk, Florida Panthers center Erik Haula, New York Islanders center Derick Brassard, Buffalo Sabres winger Wayne Simmonds, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: You can quibble over some of Gold-Smith’s rankings, but it’s clear this isn’t a great year for UFA forward talent.
Hall is the best of the bunch. Hoffman and Dadonov are reliable scorers while Toffoli is the best two-way forward. Granlund struggled through most of his tenure with the Predators, but his play improved after Peter Laviolette was replaced as head coach with John Hynes. A solid playoff tournament performance could boost his stock.
It’s pretty much buyer beware for most of the rest. They either haven’t panned out (Galchenyuk), were hampered by injuries (Haula), or are on the downside of their careers (Kovalchuk, Brassard, Simmonds, Spezza).
LATEST LEAFS SPECULATION
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Luke Fox was asked for the Toronto Maple Leafs likely blueline targets in the off-season. Given their limited salary-cap space, he doesn’t expect they’ll land Alex Pietrangelo, suggesting instead Travis Hamonic, Chris Tanev, Sami Vatanen, or Radko Gudas as more viable options.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap constraints will also hamper efforts to sign the others. Cap Friendly indicates they have over $76.9 million invested in 16 players. Some cost-cutting would have to be made to pursue them.
Turning to the trade market, Fox pointed out Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas tends to deal for players with term remaining on their contracts. High-end right-hand shots include Minnesota’s Matt Dumba, Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen, Columbus’ David Savard, Carolina’s Brett Pesce, Buffalo’s Colin Miller, Edmonton’s Adam Larsson, and Anaheim’s Josh Manson.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t see Dumba, Pesce, Larsson, or Manson getting moved. Ristolainen or Miller could be available, but it depends on whether the Sabres will trade with a hated division rival like the Leafs. Savard might be a trade option if Dubas offered up a decent scoring forward like Kasperi Kapanen.
Regarding Frederik Andersen’s contract status, Fox feels that they should kick it down the road. Andersen becomes a UFA next summer. He also expects defenseman Travis Dermott and winger Ilya Mikheyev will receive bridge deals.
Possible free-agent targets for the Red Wings and Devils in today’s NHL rumor mill.
POSSIBLE RED WINGS UFA TARGETS
THE DETROIT NEWS: Ted Kulfan believes a potential dip in next season’s salary cap could prove beneficial to the financially secure Red Wings. They have only $46.2 million invested in 11 players for 2020-21.
While a good chunk of the Wings’ cap space will be used to re-sign restricted free-agent forwards Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Robby Fabbri, Kulfan believes they’ll still be in a good position to take advantage of this summer’s unrestricted free agent market.
“Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis), Livonia’s Torey Krug (Michigan State/Boston) and Tyson Barrie (Toronto), forwards Taylor Hall (Arizona) and Mike Hoffman (Florida), and goalies Robin Lehner (Vegas) and Braden Holtby (Washington)” are among the notables who could be available at season’s end.
Kulfan admits some of those players could end up re-signing with their current clubs. Some, however, will hit the open market and the Wings could be among the teams that benefit. They need to bolster their defense and goaltending.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Wings general manager Steve Yzerman could target Pietrangelo, Krug, Lehner, or Holtby if they hit the open market. Convincing one of them to sign with a rebuilding club that finished this season with the league’s worst record, however, will likely take more than waving lots of dollars at them.
Their preference could be to sign with playoff contenders. Yzerman will have to sell them on his vision for the future and how long he believes it’ll take to achieve it.
POSSIBLE DEVILS UFA BLUELINE TARGETS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Corey Masisak recently examined some UFA targets to improve the New Jersey Devils’ defense corps. Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug topped the list.
Other clubs could give Pietrangelo a better chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. There’s some question if Krug would be as effective with another club as he’s been with the Boston Bruins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Like the Wings, the Devils have plenty of salary-cap room ($55.2 million invested in 13 players) to make a competitive bid for a top-four free-agent defenseman. However, they’re also a rebuilding team that still hasn’t decide who their full-time general manager will be.
Whoever’s sitting in that role following this season will have to be a good salesman to land one of this summer’s better UFA rearguards.