Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman had plenty to say on last night’s edition of “Saturday Headlines”, but none more important that news on negotiations between the Washington Capitals and star center Nicklas Backstrom. Despite his age, the 32-year-old Backstrom will be one of, if not the top player available should he hit the free agent market this coming summer. One of the top players in Capitals history, Backstrom is the epitome of consistency as a reliable 70+ point threat every year and he has shown no signs of slowing down. Washington previously stated that they would be patient with contract talks with both Backstrom and starting goalie Braden Holtby, but Friedman reports that negotiations are officially underway with Backstrom at least. On top of that, Backstrom has also elected not to use an agent for these extension talks, which could be a good indication that he is concerned more with staying in Washington than he is maximizing he free agency value. Backstrom showed a willingness to take term over money on his last deal – a ten-year, $67MM pact signed before the current eight-year limit was implemented – and he could do so again. While he won’t get a max-term offer, much less another decade deal from Washington, Backstrom also knows that he can command more than his previous $6.7MM cap hit. However, in terms of the current landscape of NHL contracts, it is very possible that Backstrom still opts to take a hometown discount to stay with the Caps that pays him below market value over a significant term, ensuring that he can stay and likely finish out his career in Washington.
- Jacob Markstrom and the Vancouver Canucks have yet to formally begin contract extension talks, as the impending free agent goaltender has had personal issues to deal with early this season, but Friedman reports that those discussions are expected to “intensify” over the coming weeks. He believes that the Canucks, despite their depth in promising goalie prospects like Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro, still hope and plan on bringing Markstrom back. The team will have to make a significant commitment to do so, as the 29-year-old should draw considerable interest if he hits the open market this summer. Among impending UFA goalies, Markstrom is second only to Holtby right now in games played, with the next closest being geriatric options like Craig Anderson and Mike Smith. This is not to say that Holtby and Markstrom will be the only two keepers viewed as potential starters this summer, but he is one of a small group who can back up a claim of being an established NHL workhorse starter. Markstrom is also in the top five among potential free agent stoppers with at least ten games played in save percentage and goals against average. With relative youth and solid numbers on his side, Markstrom is easily looking at an improvement to his current three-year, $11MM contract, whether that offer comes from Vancouver or elsewhere.
- As for a current free agent, recently-fired Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, Friedman warns not to get hopes up for a quick re-location. He states that “informal feelers” have already been sent out by teams and media members alike to see where Babcock’s head is at with regards to coaching again this season. There will likely be some more coaching vacancies down the road in 2019-20 and clubs will certainly be interested in at least talking to Babcock. However, Friedman has inferred from the results of those conversations that the coach is planning to take some time off before jumping into a new gig. Those closest to Babcock do not believe that he will coach again this season. It’s worth noting as well that Babcock is still under contract with Toronto, having only been relieved of his coaching duties for now, meaning all interested teams will first have to seek permission to interview the veteran bench boss.