NHL Gold & Mold: Personnel Problems Highlight Devils’ Current Struggles
The Blackhawks trade Artem Anisimov to the Senators for Zack Smith, plus the latest free-agent signings in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This move addresses needs for both clubs. The Senators get some offensive skill in Anisimov while Smith brings more defensive skill and toughness up front for the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks also free up an additional $1.3 million in cap space by swapping Anisimov’s $4.55-million annual average value (through 2020-21) for Smith’s $3.25 million. The Senators, meanwhile, will only pay $2 million of Anisimov’s actual salary for this season and $1.5 million in 2020-21.
NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: The Capitals re-signed forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year, $6.7-million contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Vrana, 23, completed his entry-level contract and lacked arbitration rights this summer. With the Capitals squeezed for cap space, he’s doing them a favor by accepting this bridge deal. Vrana’s coming off a career-best 24-goal, 47-point performance. If he continues to improve he’ll be in line for a significant raise on his next contract.
NORTHJERSEY.COM: The New Jersey Devils re-signed defenseman Connor Carrick to a two-year deal worth an annual average value of $1.5 million.
TWINCITIES.COM: The Minnesota Wild re-signed winger Ryan Donato to a two-year, $3.8-million contract. He netted 16 points in 22 games after being acquired from the Boston Bruins in a late-season trade.
TRIBLIVE.COM: The Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed forward Teddy Blueger to a two-year, one-way contract worth $750K per season.
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: The Anaheim Ducks confirmed their signing of defenseman Michael Del Zotto to a one-year, $750K contract. Blueliner Chris Wideman was inked to a one-year, two-way contract.
NEWSOBSERVER.COM: The Carolina Hurricanes re-signed defenseman Haydn Fleury to a one-year, $850K contract and defenseman Gustav Forsling to a one-year, two-way contract that will pay $874,125 at the NHL level.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: The Oilers signed UFA forward Josh Archibald to a one-year, $1-million contract.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Kings re-signed goaltender Cal Petersen to a three-year contract worth over $858K per season. It’s a two-way deal for 2019-20 and one-way for the next two seasons.
SEATTLE TIMES: Hall-of-Famer Ron Francis is set to become the general manager of the NHL’s Seattle expansion franchise. Francis is also the former general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The budget-conscious Hurricanes failed to reach the playoffs during Francis’ tenure. However, he brought in young players like Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Warren Foegele to Carolina and developed young talent like Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. All played key roles in the Hurricanes’ march to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
THE SCORE: U.S. Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan are pushing their colleagues to honor Willie O’Ree with the Congressional Gold Medal. O’Ree was the first black player in the NHL and was inducted last year into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Update on Jake Gardiner, three teams that should go the offer-sheet route, and the latest Sabres speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
LATEST ON JAKE GARDINER
NBC SPORTS: Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner topped Scott Billeck’s list of five potential value unrestricted free agents. Wingers Justin Williams, Michael Ferland, Ryan Dzingel, and Patrick Maroon completed the list.
Reports indicate Gardiner is seeking $7 million per season. Billeck suggests the 28-year-old rearguard is pricing himself out of range of cap-strapped teams (like the Winnipeg Jets) that could benefit from his services. He suggests the New Jersey Devils make a pitch. He and the recent acquisition of P.K. Subban would make the Devils’ blueline more formidable.
YAHOO SPORTS: Justin Cuthbert wonders if the cooling UFA market might make it possible for the Leafs to bring back Gardiner at a reduced rate. It’s assumed the blueliner could accept less than market value to return to Toronto. Given the ongoing uncertainty over Mitch Marner’s new contract, Cuthbert feels the Leafs would have to shed salary via trade to sign Gardiner to a less-expensive contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: There are teams, like the Devils, with sufficient cap space to sign Gardiner. Those who could use him, however, could be hoping to get him for much less than $7-million annually.
As for returning to the Leafs, I don’t see how that’s possible right now. General manager Kyle Dubas has done a fine job this summer making moves to bolster his roster and free up salary-cap room. The Marner situation, however, could make signing Gardiner a bridge too far.
THREE TEAMS THAT SHOULD GO THE OFFER-SHEET ROUTE
THE SCORE: Josh Wegman suggests the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils, and Carolina Hurricanes should attempt to sign a top restricted free agent to an offer sheet. He points out the Avalanche and Devils have the cap space to sign Toronto’s Mitch Marner to an offer worth an annual average value of $12 million.
The addition of Marner could push the Avalanche into Stanley Cup contender status. Bringing Marner to the Devils could convince Taylor Hall to stay in New Jersey. Given their respective depth in young talent, the two clubs could afford to part with four first-round picks as compensation to the Leafs.
Wegman admits there’s a low possibility of the Hurricanes signing a player to an offer sheet after matching one for Sebastian Aho from the Montreal Canadiens. However, he points out they have sufficient cap payroll room to target someone like Washington’s Jakub Vrana. They also have depth in draft picks to part with second- and third-round picks as compensation.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Interesting suggestions by Wegman, though it remains to be seen if those three clubs will go that route. While Sakic signed an offer sheet as a player, he reportedly isn’t a fan of them as a general manager.
Sakic’s in an enviable cap position and could prefer not tying up too much of his long-term cap space. He also has to re-sign RFA Mikko Rantanen, who could cost over $9 million annually.
Cap Friendly indicates the Devils have over $20-million in cap room. However, they’re trying to re-sign Hall to a long-term deal. Nico Hischier will need a new contract next summer. GM Ray Shero likely wants to ensure he’s got sufficient room for both.
As for the Hurricanes, I don’t see them doing an offer sheet. But if they did, the Canadiens would be their likely target. That move could be two or three years down the road when one of the Habs younger players, like Max Domi and Jersperi Kotkaniemi, become RFAs.
MORE MOVES AHEAD FOR THE SABRES?
THE BUFFALO NEWS: After shipping Alexander Nylander to Chicago for defenseman Henri Jokiharju, Lance Lysowski speculates the Sabres might not be done in the trade market. He points out the Sabres have around $6.6-million in salary-cap space and need scoring help. “With the free-agent market mostly picked over, the Sabres could theoretically trade from their defense corps to add a top-six forward, specifically a second-line center.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is a frequent topic of trade chatter this off-season. This latest move should stoke that speculation.
Will James Neal return with the Flames next season? Could the Capitals shop Matt Niskanen and Andre Burakovsky this summer? Should the Canucks pursue Jason Zucker or try to trade Brandon Sutter this summer? Find out in today’s NHL rumor mill.
WILL THE FLAMES MOVE NEAL AND TRADE BRODIE?
CALGARY SUN: Despite the calls from Flames followers for the club to rid themselves of veteran winger James Neal, Wes Gilbertson recently reported there’s “little doubt” he’ll return with the club next season. He doesn’t believe Flames ownership will approve a contract buyout stretching through 2026-17 burning up nearly $2 million in annual salary-cap space. He also doesn’t see a market for a winger carrying an AAV of $5.75-million through 2022-23. Neal, meanwhile, wants to be a top-six forward and intends to train this summer toward returning to his 20-goal-per-season form.
During a roundtable with Sun writers Danny Austin and Kristen Anderson on the Flames season and offseason plans, Gilbertson agreed with Anderson that GM Brad Treliving is unlikely to make sweeping roster changes. He believes Treliving must find a second-line right winger, suggesting perhaps revisiting the trade for Jason Zucker with the Minnesota Wild that fell through at the trade deadline. He also agreed with Austin that defenseman T.J. Brodie could be traded this summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Flames have over $69 million invested in 20 players, with RFAs Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett to re-sign and goaltenders Mike Smith and David Rittich to re-sign or replace. Tkachuk’s next contract alone could absorb around $9 million of their salary-cap space. If they’re looking to shed salary, Brodie rather than Neal is a more likely trade candidate.
Neal lacks no-trade protection but the sharp decline in his production this season combined with the remaining years and the cap hit of his contract makes him a tough sell. He’ll likely return with the Flames next season.
If Treliving intends to acquire Zucker ($5.5 million AAV) or another right winger, that move will have to be as close to a dollar-for-dollar swap as possible or doing a separate deal to shed the cap space necessary to take on that incoming winger’s contract. Those moves could involve Brodie or Michael Frolik, who was reportedly offered up to the Wild (along with a draft pick) for Zucker.
WILL THE CAPITALS TRADE NISKANEN AND BURAKOVSKY THIS SUMMER?
THE WASHINGTON POST: In the wake of the Washington Capitals first-round playoff elimination, Isabelle Khurshudyan recently examined potential offseason moves in store for the roster. She points out the bonuses owed to Brooks Orpik, Jakub Vrana, and Jonas Siegenthaler ($1.15 million total) will count against next season’s salary-cap payroll.
Khurshudyan speculates the addition of defenseman Nick Jensen in February could make veteran blueliner Matt Niskanen a salary-cap casualty. Trading Niskanen, who’s signed through 2020-21 with a $5.75-million annual salary-cap hit, would create flexibility this summer and next.
The Capitals must also decide what to do with winger Andre Burakovsky, a restricted free agent who was also the subject of frequent trade speculation. Fellow RFAs Dmitrij Jaskin and Chandler Stephenson also face uncertain futures. Of their unrestricted free agents, Orpik and Devante Smith-Pelly are least likely to return. The Capitals probably want to re-sign forwards Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin but probably can’t afford to keep both. With 22 goals and 46 points, Connolly has more upside.
Khurshudyan considers re-signing Vrana the priority, using Vegas Golden Knights winger Alex Tuch ($4.75-million annual average value) as a “conservative comparable,” speculating his representatives could push for a bridge deal as a hedge that his production will continue to climb, ensuring a bigger future payday.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Capitals have over $72.6 million already invested in 17 players for 2019-20. Deduct that $1.15 million bonus overage from the projected $83 million salary cap for next season and they’ll have around $9 million to work with. Even if Vrana’s camp wants a bridge deal, he’s going to get a significant raise coming off his entry-level contract, perhaps around $4 million. Connolly made $1.5 million annually on his current contract and will likely seek around $4 million. That won’t leave much to fill in the rest of the lineup.
Somebody must be moved in a cost-cutting deal. Niskanen had a modified no-trade clause listing 10 teams he cannot be traded to, leaving a 20-team marketplace. Given his experience, puck-moving skills, ability to log big minutes and the market for right-shooting defensemen, the Capitals should be able to find a suitable destination for him and probably won’t have to absorb any of his salary-cap hit. However, they can’t afford to take any salary back so they’ll likely look at draft picks and prospects in return.
Burakovsky’s days with the Capitals appear in doubt. GM Brian MacLellan resisted the temptation to move the 24-year-old winger this season in hopes he’d improve. While he did play better down the stretch, I don’t think he did enough to ensure a long-term future there. They could decide not to qualify Burakovsky’s rights in hopes of signing him at a lower salary but I think they’ll see what he might fetch in the trade market.
RECENT CANUCKS TRADE SPECULATION
THE ATHLETIC: During a mailbag segment earlier this month, JD Burke was asked about possible trade targets for the Canucks. He suggested making a pitch for Minnesota Wild winger Jason Zucker. Pointing to the near-deal that would’ve sent Zucker to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline for Michael Frolik and a draft pick, he proposes the Canucks offer up Jake Virtanen. He also believes they should target the Edmonton Oilers, assuming they’ll once again screw up their GM search.
Asked which team the Canucks could trade center Brandon Sutter to this summer, he doubts there’s much of a market for the 30-year-old center, who’s signed through 2020-21 with a $4.35-million AAV and also carries a no-trade clause. He speculates the Edmonton Oilers might be interested, depending on who becomes their next GM. He also wonders if the Columbus Blue Jackets would be willing to swap Alexander Wennberg’s contract (signed through 2022-23, $4.9 million AAV) for Sutter’s, or if the New York Islanders might be interested.
VANCOUVER SUN: Patrick Johnston recently listed Sutter, Virtanen, Nikolay Goldobin, Loui Eriksson, and Ben Hutton as potential Canucks trade candidates. Goldobin’s a restricted free agent who said he wants to stay in Vancouver but Johnston wondered if he’ll get the chance. Eriksson carries a $6 million AAV and was employed on the fourth line this season. He also carries a 15-team no-trade list but could be appealing to budget clubs looking to become cap compliant.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Pundits and fans can make suggestions over what moves the Canucks should attempt to make but GM Jim Benning probably has other ideas. If Zucker’s available, the Wild could attempt to drive up his value by getting teams into a bidding war for his services. If so, forget about prying him out of Minnesota with Virtanen.
There could be a market for Sutter or Eriksson among cost-conscious clubs looking to reach the cap minimum. However, those teams will also want a sweetener included in the deal, like a decent draft pick or a good prospect.
The Canucks might not have to worry about re-signing Goldobin. He’s reportedly considering signing with a KHL team this summer.
Game recaps, Bruins and Jets clinch playoff berths, Bruins re-sign Zdeno Chara, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The Boston Bruins clinched a postseason spot by thumping the Florida Panthers 7-3. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara had a big day, becoming the 22nd defenseman in NHL history to reach 200 career goals and re-signing a one-year contract extension. The new deal is worth $2 million in base salary plus $1.75 million in performance bonuses. Meanwhile, the Bruins got some bad news earlier in the day when it was revealed Sean Kuraly will be sidelined a month with a fracture in his right hand.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Chara’s new contract is a reasonable one for both sides. The Bruins keep their captain in the fold for another season to maintain stability and leadership on their blueline. Chara gets a fair deal for a player of his declining (but still effective) skills.
The move also provides the Bruins with salary-cap flexibility. With over $68.6 million invested in 19 players, that should provide sufficient room to re-sign restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen, who are all coming off entry-level contracts.
The Winnipeg Jets (94 points) secured a playoff berth by blanking the Nashville Predators 5-0. Kyle Connor netted a hat trick while Connor Hellebuyck turned aside 33 shots for the shutout. The Jets also hold a four-point lead over the Predators for the top spot in the Central Division.
Mark Giordano had a goal and two assists to give the Calgary Flames a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Giordano now has points in seven straight games. The Flames (101 points) have a six-point lead over the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division and the overall Western Conference standings.
The Colorado Avalanche (80 points) moved ahead of the Arizona Coyotes into the final Western Conference wild-card berth by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2. Colin Wilson had a goal and an assist for the Avs, while the Blackhawks (74 points) slip six points behind Colorado. The Avs played without winger Mikko Rantanen, who sat out the game with an undisclosed injury and will miss today’s contest against the Hawks.
The Arizona Coyotes (79 points) dropped one point out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference by falling 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils in a shootout. Pavel Zacha tallied the winner for the Devils. The Coyotes are winless in their last four contests.
Josh Bailey scored twice, including the go-ahead goal, as the New York Islanders doubled up the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2. The Islanders (93 points) move within one of the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division while the Flyers (80 points) are seven points out of a playoff berth in the East.
The Carolina Hurricanes (89 points) remain two ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for the first wild-card spot in the East by defeating the Minnesota Wild 5-1. Teuvo Teravainen had a goal and two assists for the Hurricanes, while the Wild (79 points) slip one behind the Avalanche in the Western Conference wild-card chase. Wild winger Zach Parise missed the game with a lower-body injury.
Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi, and Tomas Tatar each had three-point performances as the Montreal Canadiens beat the Buffalo Sabres 7-4. With the win, the Canadiens (87 points) hold a three-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final Eastern wild-card spot. Gallagher tallied his career-high 33rd goal of the season. The Sabres are now officially eliminated from postseason contention.
Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn each had a goal and an assist as the St. Louis Blues held off the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3. With 88 points, the Blues sit two back of the Predators for second in the Central Division. Lightning center Brayden Point scored his 40th of the season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins (93 points) remain tied with the Islanders for second in the Metro Division after nipping the Dallas Stars 3-2. Jared McCann scored twice for the Penguins, including the game-winner in the third period. The Stars (82 points) sit two points above the Avalanche in the first wild-card spot in the West. Stars center Jason Spezza was a healthy scratch for the second time in a week.
The New York Rangers upset the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on an overtime goal by Ryan Strome. Despite the victory, the Rangers are officially eliminated from playoff contention. The Leafs (94 points) have won just four of their last 10 games.
Anthony Mantha scored twice, including the winner in overtime, as the Detroit Red Wings surprised the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2, snapping the latter’s four-game winning streak. Vegas sits five points behind the Sharks in the Pacific Division. Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson missed the game with a lower-body injury.
Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson made 26 saves to pick up his first victory since Dec. 17 by edging the Edmonton Oilers 4-3. Brady Tkachuk tallied two goals, including the winner in overtime. The Oilers (74 points) are six points behind the Avalanche for the final Western playoff spot. A lingering back injury prevented Senators forward Zack Smith from playing in this game.
Speaking of the Oilers and Senators, Ken Hitchcock is receptive to the idea of returning behind the Edmonton bench next season. Meanwhile, the Senators confirm their intention to hire a president of hockey operations to provide assistance to general manager Pierre Dorion, who continues to have the full support of team owner Eugene Melnyk.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Remains to be seen if the eventual new Oilers general manager wants Hitchcock back. He might prefer bringing in his own bench boss. As for a new hockey ops president for the Senators, that move will take some of the burdens off Dorion, allowing him to focus on rebuilding the roster.
The Los Angeles Kings downed the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 on a shootout goal by Anze Kopitar.
NBC SPORTS: Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been dealing with an upper-body injury that’s been bothering him for a while. His status for today’s game against the Vancouver Canucks remains unclear.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bad enough for the Blue Jackets to be slumping when they’re trying to secure a wild-card spot. Having their starting goalie hampered by an injury makes matters potentially worse.
DENVER POST: NHL referee and Colorado native Brad Watson has retired after 23 seasons. He worked 214 playoff games and eight Stanley Cup Finals.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Best wishes to Watson in his retirement.
Of note in the story: Vrana triggered a $212,500 bonus in his contract (still his entry-level) with 20 goals. He could get another one if he finishes in the top six for ice time among forwards. If you look at aggregate, he’s currently sixth.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) March 23, 2019
Game recaps, injury updates and more in your NHL morning coffee headlines.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I doubt even the most die-hard Golden Knights fan envisioned their club holding first place in the Pacific. Considering their injury-ravaged goaltending, this is an impressive achievement for an expansion team. I still don’t see this club clinching a playoff berth, but if they do, it’ll make a helluva story.
Josh Bailey scored the winner in overtime and also collected two assists as the New York Islanders topped the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3. Bailey’s goal came as the result of impressive work by center John Tavares.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: For anyone with lingering doubts over why Tavares could be the top player potentially available in this summer’s free-agent market, watching him shake off Flyers center Sean Couturier to set up Bailey’s game winner should wipe away your uncertainty. It was highlight reel stuff, folks.
Brock Boeser scored two goals for the second straight game while Anders Nilsson made 43 saves to lead the Vancouver Canucks to a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Boeser’s tearing it up offensively of late. He now leads this season’s rookie class in goals (11) and points (21).
Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast both scored two goals as the New York Rangers thumped the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1. The Rangers have won eight of their last 10 games.
Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter each scored twice as the Minnesota Wild edged the Buffalo Sabres 5-4, handing the latter their seventh straight defeat. Jordan Nolan scored two goals for the Sabres.
Jakub Vrana scored twice, Evgeni Kuznetsov had a goal and two assists and Alex Ovechkin tallied his 14th goal of the season in the Washington Capitals’ 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators, handing the Sens their fourth straight defeat. Earlier in the day, the Sens claimed Gabriel Dumont off waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Filip Forsberg netted two goals and Kyle Turris tallied the winner in a shootout to give the Nashville Predators a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, leaving the latter winless in their last five games. The Habs were playing without defenseman Shea Weber (lower-body injury) for the second straight game.
Connor McDavid and Ryan Strome each collected two assists as the Edmonton Oilers snapped a three-game losing skid with a 6-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
Nathan MacKinnon had three assists and Jonathan Bernier stopped 28 shots to shut out the Dallas Stars 3-0. MacKinnon has 20 points in his last 10 games.
Nick Bjugstad scored in a shootout as the Florida Panthers squeaked past the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1. Roberto Luongo made 43 saves for the win while Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen kicked out 42 shots.
Brayden Point’s overtime goal completed the comeback for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they overcame a 2-0 deficit to nip the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2. Patrick Kane scored twice for the Hawks.
Steve Mason made 38 saves as the Winnipeg Jets hung on for a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
Charlie McAvoy’s shootout goal gave the Boston Bruins a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. Anton Khudobin turned aside 40 shots for the victory. Earlier in the day, the Devils learned winger Kyle Palmieri will miss four-to-six weeks with a broken right foot.
Josh Anderson scored in overtime and Sergei Bobrovsky had a 22-save shutout performance as the Columbus Blue Jackets blanked the Calgary Flames 1-0.
Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joel Ward scored to give the San Jose Sharks a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes, ending the latter’s three-game win streak. It was a costly loss for the Coyotes, as goalie Antti Raanta left the game in the first period with an upper-body injury.
THE ATHLETIC: Escrow payments for NHL players are going down. The rate for this season was set at 11.5 percent to start the season, but it’s plausible they’ll only lose eight or nine percent of their pay to escrow by season’s end. The players will also receive escrow refunds of 3 percent for 2015-16.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: High escrow clawbacks are a significant issue for the players. But if that rate is declining and they continue to see refunds, it could dampen speculation suggesting the NHL Players Association might vote for an early opt-out of the collective bargaining agreement in September 2019.