Topics in this edition of the PHR Mailbag include an underachieving Bruin, some crystal ball predictions, the goalie situation for the Golden Knights, buyout candidates, and much, much more. If your question doesn’t appear here, watch for it in next weekend’s mailbag.
Puckhead83: You’re Don Sweeney. Are you exposing Jake DeBrusk and taking the cap relief, trading him at his lowest value, or making him your reclamation project?
Can I take none of the above? If I’m Sweeney, I’m leaning towards buying DeBrusk out and taking the cap relief that way. The structure of his backloaded contract gives Boston a cap credit of $367K in 2021-22 and a charge of $808K in 2022-23; his buyout is only one-third instead of two-thirds because of his age (24). His qualifying offer in 2022-23 is $4.85MM and even a decent bounce-back season probably isn’t worthy of a tender so making him the reclamation project doesn’t make sense.
I’d leave him unprotected in expansion but I don’t think Seattle would bite. Jeremy Lauzon is my preferred target from the Bruins, a young and cheap defenseman with some upside and can already handle himself in the NHL.
As for a trade, what’s better for Boston – roughly $4MM in cap space this summer or taking on a similar underperformer in a trade for DeBrusk? The UFA market is going to be like last fall; there will be bargains to be had. If I’m Sweeney, I’m making my bet that a UFA signing will be a better fit than the addition of the prototypical change of scenery swap player that I’d get in a swap.
The Duke: Crystal Ball time: Where will Ekman-Larsson and Kessel end up – and what’s Adin Hill’s future hold? Bonus question: who will be Nashville’s backup goalie – and what is Connor Ingram’s status? Thanks!
Oliver Ekman-Larsson: I think he stays in Arizona. The Coyotes aren’t a team that’s going to want to carry a lot of dead money on the books and with the cap environment being what it is and the year he had, no one is taking on the six years and $8.25MM AAV outright. There’s a new coach in Andre Tourigny so why not see if the captain can turn things around over selling low and paying him a good chunk of money not to play for them?
Phil Kessel: They’ve already paid most of his contract for next season in the form of a signing bonus and only owe him $800K with Toronto covering the other $200K. This a budget-conscious team so while I know his name is out there, I don’t think they’re in much of a hurry to move his contract. If they’re out of it at the deadline, he’ll move then but I think he stays with the Coyotes.
Hill: He should be in the NHL next season, either as Darcy Kuemper’s backup or picked by Seattle in expansion. Hill has two years before reaching UFA eligibility so he is going to have to establish himself as a legitimate backup between now and then. He should get that chance starting next year though.
Ingram: Ingram did return to Nashville’s farm team late in the season and still has two years left on his contract with the final year being a one-way pact. He’s now waiver-eligible and is one of the more intriguing netminders in that situation. This year was a write-off with everything that happened which could push him out of the mix to be the Predators’ backup but in 2019-20, he was nothing short of dominant. Is there a team that is willing to give him a chance based on that? I’m quite interested in seeing how that plays out in the fall.
DirtbagBlues: Can Vegas really afford to keep this goalie tandem? There seems to be no interest in moving either of them, but they could badly use the cap space. Not that this helps them with the cap, but if Vegas doesn’t trade an NHL goalie, could Logan Thompson be moved for a young skater?
They can afford to if they want. They have probably three or four roster spots to fill (two forwards plus one or two defensemen) and roughly $6MM in cap space. Go cheap on those slots and there is room to keep both Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. However, they’d be parting ways with Alec Martinez, Mattias Janmark, and potentially Tomas Nosek in the process and taking a step backwards so the question becomes is keeping both the right move to make?
Last year, the asking price to take on Fleury’s deal was high but things have changed since then. He’s now the reigning Vezina winner which helps his value. He also now has just one year left on his contract which also helps his value. With so many other goalies available in free agency, Vegas couldn’t command a significant return but they shouldn’t have to pay to get out of it either. Meanwhile, with Fleury being 36, they can’t really move Lehner who is the goalie of the near future. They can make keeping both of them work but there is a definite opportunity cost in doing so.
As for moving Thompson, sure, he could be swapped for a young skater but it would be of the fringe variety. He has one very good AHL season under his belt but that alone doesn’t give him much trade value. They’re not going to get someone that could step into the bottom six up front or the third pairing defensively for someone with that small of a track record. I’d hold onto him and if he has another strong year in Henderson, he’s a cost-effective backup to Lehner in 2022-23.
wreckage: Who is the most likely buyout candidate?
Anthony DeAngelo of the Rangers is the most obvious one. They’re not going to pay him $5.3MM in salary to sit at home for another year when a buyout cap charge would be less than $1.2MM spread out over two seasons. Teams aren’t going to trade for him at that salary so that one is pretty much a lock. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jake Virtanen is in a similar situation. The off-ice situation is still in play and his play on the ice (five goals and zero assists in 38 games) doesn’t warrant the contract he has. It’s another one-third buyout with just a $50K cap charge next season and $500K the year after that. Vancouver can do better with that money.
In terms of veterans, Edmonton’s Mikko Koskinen also seems quite likely. There is now only one year left on his deal at $4.5MM and that’s way too much money for a backup goalie that can’t be relied on. Even with a $1.5MM buyout charge for two years, I suspect GM Ken Holland can find a better fit between the pipes for the net $3MM savings for next season. With some uncertainty with a long-term starting option, they can’t afford to carry more uncertainty at the backup spot either.
I expect a few more buyouts than these but it would be surprising if any of these three aren’t hitting the open market later this month.
@DJ23420117: What are the Wild going to do about Parise? Buyout? Trade w/Kraken? Keep him and make nice?
There is no good answer in this situation. Let’s get that out of the way first. The buyout cost – one that would give them some room next season before jumping to $6.3MM, $7.3MM, and $7.3MM – accomplishes next to nothing. With his AAV being $7.538MM, they can’t even replace him without incurring a higher cap hit than had they just kept him. In that situation, keeping him makes sense although he’s clearly unhappy with the situation.
A trade with Seattle is nice in theory but what would it cost to get them to take the contract on? With the market being what it is, we’re probably looking at multiple first-round picks or comparable assets while also locking in the potential for salary cap recapture if he decides to retire early.
Honestly, I think they may be better off just keeping him; I don’t know about the make nice part though. No one is happy in this scenario either but I wouldn’t want to give up so many future pieces to move him or create a bunch of dead cap space that winds up costing them more money to fill his spot in some of those years than it would be to keep him. There’s no desirable answer here so for Parise, it’ll be a matter of choosing the least undesirable solution.
Y2KAK: Any chance Buffalo doesn’t go Owen Power?
Nothing is ever 100% certain but the odds they don’t go with Power would be low. I doubt they’re concerned with him leaning towards staying in college for another year; that wouldn’t scare them off from picking him. Big, top pairing defenders don’t become available very often and passing on one wouldn’t make much sense.
About the only scenario where I could maybe see them not taking him is if they traded Jack Eichel for a package that really shored up their defense with multiple long-term pieces to the point where they then look at someone like Matthew Beniers to replace Eichel up the middle. But even that isn’t a very realistic scenario. I’d be really surprised if Power isn’t a Sabre later this month.
Red Wings: What would it take for the Panthers to get rid of Bobrovsky? Or more realistically Yandle?
To move Sergei Bobrovsky, it would take eating a significant chunk of his $10MM cap hit for the next five seasons. That’s a lot of money to pay someone not to play for them and as a budget-conscious team, it’s an even bigger hit. From there, they’d have to take on a deal with at least three years left at a similar price tag as the non-retained portion on Bobrovsky. Is that worth doing for Florida? Probably not at this stage. I’m not expecting him to rebound significantly next season but a small improvement could get him closer to league average. That, coupled with one less year on his contract a year from now, might make it slightly less difficult to move him.
You’re correct that Keith Yandle is the more realistic trade option. With only two years left and a $6.35MM cap hit, that’s a lot less of a hit to take on than Bobrovsky. Yandle can also still contribute offensively although his struggles in his own end are what ultimately led to him being scratched in the playoffs. The formula to a trade is similar to Bobrovsky – retain a sizable percentage and take a player back making the difference between Yandle’s AAV and the retained portion, creating a cap-neutral trade which will be a key to many moves this summer. They’ll be losing some offensive punch with such a move but improved defensive zone play would help negate that.
KAR 120C: Will playoff teams be required to be cap compliant after the Tampa Bay Lightning kept Kucherov on LTIR? If not, I can see this becoming a circumvention of the cap for playoff-bound teams. Our player is ‘cough, cough’ injured still and needs more practice time.
I don’t think there’s an appetite to make any changes to the salary cap rules. First, that’s something that’s collectively bargained so both the league and NHLPA would have to sign off on it. There’s no desire to reopen part of the CBA and at this point, the focus is on trying to finalize Olympic participation.
Let’s not forget that Tampa Bay was without Nikita Kucherov – one of the top players in the league – for the entire season. Yes, they’re a very deep team but that was still a significant loss. Let’s also not forget that the $18MM overage includes players like Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson who were never going to play for them; it’s a bit misleading.
Do I think Kucherov could have played down the stretch? I do. But the rule is that a player can’t be activated until they’re cap compliant. The trade deadline had passed by then so they couldn’t make the moves needed to activate him. It was entirely within the rules.
There aren’t many teams in the league who could willingly be without a star player for an entire year and still make it to the playoffs which is why this strategy won’t become a viable one. And if it’s an in-season injury before the trade deadline (like Patrick Kane in 2015), the LTIR rule allows for a replacement. I honestly don’t think they need to do anything with this rule at this point as I don’t sense this is the beginning of a new trend.
The Mistake of Giving Eugene Melnyk a Liver Transplant: What happens with Evander Kane? It sounds like he is wearing out his welcome in San Jose (what happened?). That would be his third team, so what would his market be and what is the real issue?
I don’t think anything really happens with Kane on the trade front. His past has been well-documented and it could very well be a case of history repeating itself with San Jose. But that past makes a trade that much harder. The market for him wasn’t robust as a rental and now that he has four more years left on a deal with a $7MM cap hit, it’s certainly not going to be there now even though he led the Sharks in scoring this season. If the options are sell low or hold onto him, I’m taking the latter if I’m GM Doug Wilson.
Winning can cure a lot of internal strife and it’s something that San Jose hasn’t done much of lately. If they can get a legitimate starting goalie, they might be able to get themselves back in the mix and if that happens, Kane is someone they’re going to want to hold onto as it will be harder to try to win without him than with him in the fold.
lago407: What’s the most realistic scenario in offseason trades/free agency that puts the Blackhawks in the playoffs next year?
To be fair, I’m not sure that should necessarily be the goal here for Chicago. This past season had some promising moments for sure but not enough that I’d be trying to deviate from the long-term rebuild. But since you asked, here is a scenario that probably gets them back into playoff contention.
I like Kevin Lankinen – I had him as the dark horse to land the starting role last offseason but that doesn’t mean he’s a number one. But neither are Malcolm Subban or Collin Delia. Lankinen works in a platoon but who is that other goalie going to be? If I’m GM Stan Bowman, I’m looking for a younger goalie with some upside so out of the free agents, that’s Linus Ullmark or Chris Driedger. Signing one of those would be a good start.
The anticipated return for Duncan Keith doesn’t appear to be much; cap savings may be the biggest asset involved. That money needs to be put towards an impact defender. Dougie Hamilton as a free agent signing or Seth Jones in a trade are the best options. They’d need to add one of those.
Then I’m looking for a top-six winger on a one-year deal that’s going to get signed (or acquired) into Andrew Shaw’s $3.9MM LTIR pool to try to put together a third line that’s capable of scoring and hopefully prop up Dylan Strome in the process.
Is all of this happening really realistic? Probably not. But that’s the combination of moves that would be needed to push them into the mix for a likely playoff spot in the Central next season. I expect they’ll try to do something notable which will give them a boost and maybe put them on the bubble but I’d be surprised if we’re sitting here a few months from now looking at them as a viable playoff contender.
@stephmartel: Drouin, where will he go? Seattle or another city?
The whole Jonathan Drouin situation is rather confusing. He left the team just after the trade deadline while being placed on LTIR for personal reasons and didn’t return in the playoffs. That’s pretty serious. Speaking with reporters yesterday (video link), Montreal GM Marc Bergevin indicated that he was doing well. That’s certainly good news but it yielded no hints about if he’ll be able to return.
If I’m picking between those two options, I’ll pick another city although your guess is as good as mine as to which one it would be. This situation should allow the Canadiens to leave Drouin unprotected but the uncertainty surrounding everything makes it unlikely that Seattle would pick him although he would become one of their more talented players. Montreal, meanwhile, may not be willing to part with an asset to get the Kraken to take on the final two years of his deal with a $5.5MM AAV.
Assuming he’s able to play next season, Drouin looks like a change of scenery candidate for another underachiever on a similar contract. I expect there will be a lot of those moves this summer as teams that don’t have a lot of money look to do something to try to augment their rosters and this could be another one of those.
Ideas Guy: I’m seeing some movement of players going overseas to continue their careers despite NHL expansion. Do you think we will see more players go to the KHL/SHL/Swiss/etc., and if so, who?
The addition of Seattle opens up the potential for 50 more NHL contracts but of those, how many are NHL deals? Probably somewhere between 20-25; some of their NHL players will be on two-way pacts even. That’s not as many extra opportunities as it seems at first glance then.
If you’re a fringe player like Mikhail Grigorenko, you can hang around and hope for a one-way deal or go home and make similar money. He took the latter and it makes sense. Someone like Jordan Weal (coming off a one-way deal while playing in the minors) could have hung around and hoped for a pricey two-way deal but opted for the guaranteed money overseas which made a lot of sense. Prospects that haven’t panned out and are heading for non-tenders are going to head overseas as well over hoping for a last-ditch offer from Seattle or another team. The creation of the Kraken doesn’t really affect the free agent market all that much.
As for a list of who could head overseas, it’s way too big to mention here. By the time we get through the non-tenders looking to continue their careers, the AHL players opting to try something new, and the fringe NHL players looking for a bigger role, it’s going to be probably 100+ players long. The exodus will be considerable as always.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.